bastard out of carolina

Be warned: this harrowing tale of childhood abuse and poverty in the Southern US may gnaw away at your restful dreams. Jena Malone puts in a tragic turn as the fragile Bone who suffers at the hands of her unstable stepfather while mom’s love wavers between dad and daughter. Luckily, later in the pic, a strong woman, happy with her unmarried life and one that leaves ample time for fishing, offers a teensy glimmer of hope for Bone’s future. Overall, hard to like, but impossible to dismiss. [us, 1996]

never been kissed

It’s hard not to like Drew Barrymore. Her Boticelli roundness and girlish charm are a welcome reprieve from Ally McBeal’s wafer thin flakiness. And she ably inhabits her character as a high school misfit in this goofy comedy about teen humiliation. But in true Hollywood style, she rises above it all, develops poise, and falls for her teacher in a groan-inducing finale. Call it a guilty pleasure. [us, 1999]

rosetta

This extremely bleak film–a grim look at the details of a 17-year-old girl’s life–is unsettling on all levels. Shot with a hand-held camera, it’s physically nauseating as well as mentally disturbing. We are privy to the ungainly Rosetta’s harsh life from her life in a trailer park where she deals with poverty and her drunken mother. All she craves is a normal life, but in the outer world, she struggles to find a job and has awkward interactions with the opposite sex. This 1999 Cannes winner is ugly, depressing and raw, but likely true. [belgium, 1999]

84 charing cross road

This book-lovers film centres on an aspiring New York screenwriter and voracious reader (in an exuberant turn by Anne Bancroft) who befriends the stodgy but warm-hearted owner of an antique book store in London (Anthony Hopkins). Their platonic relationship, which evolves over the years through letters, is marked by kindness and intellectual curiosity. She is an example of a woman who leads an extraordinarily ordinary life. [uk/us, 1987]

i’ve heard the mermaids singing

The heroine of this independent Canadian film is such a wallflower that a receptionist job at a small art gallery is the height of success for her. Her overactive dream life has her flying over the skyscrapers of Toronto, yet blissfully unaware of facts in her own life. The slow realization that her boss is a lesbian is enough to rock her world. Quirky and sweet. [canada, 1987]

guinevere

Canadian bright light Sarah Polley is so convincing as an awkward and insecure 20-year-old who falls for an aging bohemian that she makes you forget how ridiculously beautiful she is. Directed by Audrey Wells (The Truth About Cats and Dogs), this slight film takes a closer look at May-December relationships revealing what each partner gains from the other. As the sarcastic, socialite mom, Jean Harper provides a brash counterpoint to her daughter’s meekness. Her showdown with the man “who’s fucking my daughter,” is worth the price of admission. [us, 1999]

carrington

This artistic period piece explores the unconventional and unwavering love between a delicate, gay writer and his devoted female companion, painter Dora Carrington. That the love could never be properly fulfilled results in great sadness as each partner dabbles in other love relationships. Emma Thompson provides the movie’s soul as foil to the flashier wittier role inhabited by Jonathon Pryce. [uk, 1995]

hilary and jackie

A tormented tale of sisterly rivalry and love based on a true story. Hilary is plain and grounded sister. Jackie is a flamboyant and famous Cellist. Yet, despite Jackie’s glorious golden locks, sexy way with a cello, and glamorous jet-setting lifestyle, she desperately wants what Hilary has: her husband, her children, her rural life. Emotionally wrenching performances by both talented leads, and, of course, luscious music. [uk, 1998]

passion fish

When a bitchy soap opera star is paralyzed in an accident, she retires to the inherited family spread in Louisiana to wallow in self-pity and inflict misery on all around her. Finally, the no-guff nurse stands up to the bitter debutante, and the seeds of painful mental recovery and a unique friendship are planted. [us, 1992]

the good girl

If you’re inclined to miss this film because it stars Jennifer Aniston, don’t! After the first 20 minutes you’ll completely forget her celebrity life and that guilty-pleasure sitcom. Aniston turns in a fabulous performance as a small-town working at a dead-end job at a Walmart rip-off and married to a stoner-house painter husband. Escape appears by the way of “Holden”, a broody coworker with whom Justine embarks on an affair, simply to ease her bordem. While at times veering towards maudlin, the film works because the cast is so strong and the camera’s eye is unflinching. Painfully funny and just plain painful—if you’ve ever wondered just how you ended up in the life you’re living, see it. [us 2002]