British director Angela Pope's Hollow Reed plays like a TV movie-of-the-week, lightly glossed with the greater explicitness that cinema allows. It has that dour genre's rather neatly delineated good guys and bad guys, a serviceable naturalism that creeps along between emotional outbursts and a triumphant, if unconvincing, denouement.
The script, by Paula Milne, is on the side of the angels, coming down squarely against child abuse and discrimination against gays, hardly brave stances but certainly laudable. Young Oliver (Sam Bould) lives with his mother Hannah (Joely Richardson) and her boyfriend Frank (Jason Flemyng), she having separated from her husband Martyn (Martin Donovan), who in turn is now living with his boyfriend, Tom (Ian Hart). The child, we learn early on, is periodically knocked about by the otherwise charming Frank, and Hannah, when she gets wind of this, is naturally horrified and kicks him out of the house -- only, and here the movie rings the first of several dubious notes, to take him back for a second chance (Frank is a good sniveler, but really).
Meanwhile, Martyn finds out and tries to gain custody of Oliver, only to find the court less than eager to have the boy live with an openly gay father. Matters aren't helped by Oliver's vagueness when prodded by authorities trying to get to the heart of the matter, an understandable trait in a confused child and a necessary one in order for the plot to trundle on.
On the plus side, the performances are fine throughout, especially Donovan, a brooding presence in Hal Hartley's films, here called on to affect an English accent and convey the frustrations of besieged decency, both of which he does very well. And young Bould is utterly convincing in his difficult, pivotal role. Unfortunately they're working in the service of a hackneyed scenario, one that creates an intriguing situation then retreats into conventional dramatics.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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