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Friday, March 28, 2014

DVD Review: Angels In Stardust

Angels In Stardust is an unusual and sweet drama about a teenager with an active imagination living in a small, dead-end town. It stars AJ Michalka as Vallie Sue, a girl with dreams of becoming a writer; Alicia Silverstone as Tammy, Vallie Sue’s mother, who is more interested in dating than in being a parent; and Billy Burke as The Cowboy, the man Vallie Sue confides in.

The movie opens on a surprisingly delightful note: Vallie Sue and The Cowboy discussing their shared love for glazed doughnuts, leading to their acknowledgement that things have changed in the area. It’s not dwelt upon, or given more weight than it deserves, but rather just acknowledged, which is nice.

And then we see that they’re in an old drive-in theatre, and The Cowboy is actually on the screen, talking with Vallie Sue, who is crouched on a see-saw in the dirt in front of the screen. The area is referred to as Tardust, because the “S” in the “Stardust Drive-In Theatre” is missing. Loretta, Vallie Sue’s friend, shows up and tells Vallie Sue she saw her talking to herself again. So right away we’re made aware that it is only Vallie Sue who sees and hears The Cowboy on the screen.

The area where they live is depressing and cut off from the world (as I suppose all trailer parks must feel). The Cowboy tells Vallie Sue there’s all sorts of weird stuff out in the world. “Nature is peculiar,” he says. Though Vallie Sue wants to become a writer, The Cowboy interestingly is not a character completely of her own invention. When her younger brother, Pleasant, is watching television, he points out to Vallie Sue that her favorite character is on. And there is The Cowboy.

Vallie Sue confides in The Cowboy like a diary. He is safe in the same way that a diary is – safer even than telling friends. Of course, because The Cowboy is a fictitious character who is basically in her head, he can only voice her own thoughts, and so he can’t offer any real advice – none she couldn’t offer herself anyway.

Tammy is thirty-one, and so had Vallie Sue when she was very young, and that might explain some of her shortcomings as a parent. Tammy is occupied mainly with dating, and works at a funeral parlor. When a widower who recently purchased a big property is a client at the funeral parlor, Tammy flirts with him. She begins dating him, until she learns he’s in debt, then moves on to another man. Vallie Sue herself has basically no experience with boys.

There are some serious elements for a young teenager to be dealing with, including raising her younger brother, dealing with a couple of dangerous neighbors, a missing female neighbor, and a mother who is at best absent. At one point, after Vallie Sue and her mother fight, her mom says: “You’re getting older now. You need to be finding yourself a man like I did when I was your age. I don’t know how much longer we can live under the same roof. You getting’ me?” The best advice Tammy can offer her daughter is precisely what has made her feel trapped in this town. It's a wonderfully sad and poignant moment.

This film has a lot of very short scenes. I do wish some of the scenes would go on longer, and give us more of a chance to sink into the film’s world. It bounces around a bit too much, like the girl’s thoughts, a new thought leading to a new scene. So it takes a while to get immersed in it. But eventually you do.

Several things are left unresolved in this film, but that’s okay, because this is really about a teenage girl’s world. And there aren’t always answers in a teenager’s world. Alicia Silverstone and Billy Burke deliver good performances (as they always do). But the real heart of this film lies in AJ Michalka’s remarkable performance as Vallie Sue.

Special Features

The DVD includes a few special features. The first is “Behind The Scenes Footage Under The Original Title Jesus In Cowboy Boots,” and is approximately nine minutes. Most of the footage is during production, but there is a bit of pre-production as well, including a little on storyboarding and location scouting. The production footage is from the first day of the shoot and also the rain days. There is no post-production footage.

The second is “EPK Footage Under The Original Title Jesus In Cowboy Boots.”  For those who don’t work in the film business, EPK stands for electronic press kit. This five-minute featurette includes interviews with cast members AJ Michalka, Alicia Silverstone, Billy Burke, Amelia Rose Blair, Tyler Riggs, Darin Heames and Michael Spears. There is also a bit of behind-the-scenes footage.

The special features also include the film’s trailer.

Angels In Stardust was written and directed by William Robert Carey. It was released on DVD on March 25, 2014 through Arc Entertainment.

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