Effective teacher-pupil relationships thrive in an atmosphere of respect. Having spent time in both capacities, I know how important it is not to abuse that respect -- a truth never more dramatically illustrated than in Blue Car, a coming-of-age drama about a lonely 18-year old girl who relies more and more on her sympathetic English teacher, not realizing he has problems of his own. While learning that nobody's perfect, she discovers her own talent as a poet as well as the ability to stand up for herself.
Agnes Bruckner (Murder by Numbers) steps into the creative student role here with grace and sensitivity. She projects loneliness, longing, and confusion with a maturity beyond her age. The character she portrays has been deserted by her father and spends most of the time helping her overworked mother (Margaret Colin) by taking care of a disturbed little sister (Regan Arnold) who engages in self-mutilation. But things start looking up for the older girl when an English teacher, played by David Strathairn (Limbo) takes an interest in her writing. He plans to enter "Blue Car," a poem she wrote about her father, in a competition to take place in Florida.
Watching Strathairn and Bruckner interact in their early scenes together gave me a strange pleasure. Here's a great teacher doing everything he can to motivate a student, I thought to myself. He's challenging her, making her feel important, and even sharing his lunch with her. But, in the back of my mind, I couldn't help feeling something wasn't quite right. Strathairn masterfully handles this character in a way that kept me guessing about the teacher's motivation -- a certain look in his eye, an almost too helpful tone of voice, the intensity of his personal questions.
During the course of the film, family tensions mount steadily for the high school student, and her relationship with the English teacher becomes increasingly complicated. Because of the way Bruckner drew me into the teenager's daily life with all its problems, I found this movie fascinating -- but not an easy one to sit through. I think others with unhappy teenage memories might feel the same way.
As written and directed by Karen Moncrieff, Blue Car seems excruciatingly real -- it's definitely not an ordinary drama. I hope the filmmaker receives the recognition she deserves for her fine work on this compelling and evocative film.
Available October 14 on DVD, the Blue Car bonus items include feature commentary by Moncrieff and deleted scenes with optional director's commentary.
(Released by Miramax Home Entertainment and rated "R" for sexual content and language. Bonus material not rated.)