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Movie Review: Blue Car – Poetry and Stark Reality

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Blue Car (2002) could easily have been nothing more than a cheesy after school special. The beautiful, but troubled, Megan (Agnes Bruckner) is trying to deal with her parents’ divorce, her absent mother Diane (Margaret Colin) handing over the responsibility for her distressed little sister Lily (Regan Arnold), and all the trials and tribulations of being a teenager. The home life is less than pleasant, and there’s a lack of a father figure in Megan’s life. Her mother is clearly bitter about the break-up, and as so often seems to be the case, the children wind up casualties on the harsh battlefield of divorce.

Megan’s English teacher, Mr. Auster (David Strathairn), takes an interest in her, and specifically in her budding poetic talent. She takes to the attention with all the shy awkwardness of a teenager without a sure mooring. It’s one of those things where you find yourself thinking about the very precarious balance of early adolescence. Mr. Auster actually comes across as a pretty good guy for a while, a father figure by proxy, someone who pays attention to young Megan and listens to her, and offers support and a ride home when she’s missed the bus. Nothing is ever that simple, though.

The adults in this particular narrative all fail Megan. Megan’s mother isn’t negligent, but she is demanding and trying to get by while dealing with her own emotions about the divorce and trying to get a better job to make more money to support her two daughters. Lily, the youngest, is not dealing very well with what is happening, but she seems too young to really be as troubled as she is. Lily cuts herself with scissors, ties herself up when she goes to sleep and finally stops eating, all of this inspired by some hunger strike she has read about. Lily wastes away until she winds up in the hospital and finally jumps out of a window thinking she is an angel so her wings should carry her. This leaves Megan with not only the turbulence caused by the divorce, but also the crippling guilt of thinking she could have done something to prevent it.

Through all this, Mr Auster is the only one providing any kind of emotional support for Megan. That is, until the subtle line between admiration and platonic inspiration turns sexual. Megan wins a local poetry contest and is offered the opportunity to compete nationally and she goes, despite her mother being so dead set against the idea that she throws Megan out. Megan has no money to even buy a ticket and she goes to her friend from school whose brother is just out of prison. The brother quickly spots an innocent he can use in Megan, which he summarily does, enlisting Megan’s help in stealing drugs at a local pharmacy. After having tricked Megan into stealing, the brother then summarily rips off his entire family and disappears, emptying Megan’s wallet of what little content it has.

Despite all this Megan manages to make it to Florida, where the contest is held, and she sleeps on the beach waiting for the day of the contest. On the morning of the big event she runs into Mr Auster, his wife (Frances Fisher) and son on the beach. The viewer gets a succinct glimpse into the Auster family dynamic and it’s clearly not all the way healthy.

As if all this wasn’t enough, Mr Auster then proceeds to seduce Megan, bringing her to a cheap motel and taking her to bed. She never says no, despite him asking her several times if she’s okay, but it’s fairly obvious to the viewer that this is not how things were supposed to go.

The thing about this particular story is that Megan is very much a victim of her circumstance and she makes an alarming number of bad decisions, but she does it in that volatile state of young adolescence where consequences seem hard to predict. You can read Mr Auster as a predator if you like, but there are enough layers in this that you can also see him as a character with murky motives that may or may not be all that clear to himself.

If this had been handled differently, if the actors had not been as skilled as they are at finding the nuances, it would have amounted to nothing more than lurid cheap thrills and yet another movie about a troubled youth gone astray. Of course it’s annoying that every movie about a young woman coming of age has to have this veneer of victimization, but in a way that seems inevitable. I think Megan holds her own pretty well, all things considered. She’s not completely without resources and that makes all the difference.

I recommend this because it isn’t as simple as it first seems and because of the really excellent depth of character portrayed by all actors in this. There’s meat there and not just poetry and that makes it worth watching.

Blue Car (2002), directed by Karen Moncrieff, stars Agnes Bruckner (Megan Denning), David Strathairn (Mr. Auster), Magaret Colin (Diane), Frances Fisher (Delia), A.J. Buckley (Pat), Regan Arnold (Lily), Sarah Buehler (Georgia), Dustin Sterling (Rob), Wayne Armstrong (Don) and Michael Joseph Thomas Ward (Dad).

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