Coming Up Roses
Writer-director Lisa Albright's second feature film is a slightly grimy fable for kids on the cusp of adulthood that traces an outline of grace around life's cruel truths.
Bernadette Peters stars in "Coming Up Roses" as Diane, a washed-up performer with a closet full of memories (not to mention hats and gowns), but no real prospects. When Diane's older daughter, Cherie (Shannon Esper), moves to Nashua, New Hampshire, to marry, Diane packs up a moving van and younger daughter Alice (Rachel Brosnahan) and relocates to be nearby. Is she a mother who can't let go? Or a grown-up child afraid to release her hold on one of her life's anchors?
The clues are telling, and they arrive early on: Helping her mother unpack, Cherie finds a box full of her father's things. He left six years ago; he's never coming back; obviously, Diane is delusional, and Cherie wants no part in it.
Her new job doesn’t work out, and Diane lapses into depression, laced with fits of rage. That leaves 15-year-old Alice to take on the role of responsible adult. But how will she pull it off? Working under the table at a local donut shop -- or falling in with Cat (Reyna de Courcy), a tough, tomboyish girl who’s been up to all sorts of illicit tasks for a local tough named Jimmy (Jayce Bartok)?
Like Alice, Cat is bereft of a father; in the wake of his departure, her mother, a former party girl, has found religion. Cat thinks she’s buying into an easy escapist fantasy, but her own goal is to escape to New York City and some hazy concept of a new life. Toward that end, Cat’s been accumulating a wad of money earned from her illegal dealings for Jimmy, but the guy is a tough boss and he wants Cat to up her game and start running drugs for him.
Alice has her own delusions -- a suicide attempt by Diane is "an accident," her deadbeat dad is "a great, great man." Now and again, Alice lapses into waking dreams. Is she headed down the same road of mild mental illness as her mother?
Enter Charles (Peter Friedman), an employee of the rental agency to which Diane owes back rent. Charles’ wife and daughter have left him; he takes an interest in Diane and Alice’s plight, and romantic sparks start to heat up between him and Diane. But will these two broken people fit into a new whole? Or will Charles, like Jimmy, and dear departed Dad, and Cherie, fall short?
Peters brings some star wattage to this film, but it’s Brosnahan who carries the show, flirting one moment with the precipice and then fighting the next not to go over the edge. Her performance is a lovely thing to see.
There’s only the barest hint of a love interest between Cat and Alice; that’s fine, since this is a coming-of-age film of a different stripe. The script, by Albright and Christina Lazaridi, would rather focus on the task of letting Alice grow in all directions as she begins to grasp and fulfill her own identity in all its many facets.
The film is anything but lavish, but Albright is an able, sometimes inspired, director, and cinematographer Ryan Samul gives the project visual polish. Samul and editor Ray Hubley do A-list work on a shoestring, allowing a strong cast to shine that much brighter.