These days, kitchen-sink dramas give off the whiff of an endangered species – a pity, because the family feeding station doubles ably as an interpersonal cauldron.
The tension brewing in this one concerns Bernie (touching Stephanie Gould), whose cognitive impairment – the result of childhood encephalitis – inspires a fierce protectiveness among her family members: mother and father (Margo Singaliese and Jordan Lage, both intense), who appear united only on this one front, and Bernie’s older brother Mikey (Forrest Malloy). The parents are desperate to ensure continuity of care – at home, they insist, not in an institution – while Mikey, hating his job at a fast-food restaurant, yearns to break away to continue his education. It doesn’t help that Mikey has fallen hard for a co-worker, Laura (Ismenia Mendes), who is mired in an abusive relationship. Each actor inhabits his or her persona with such conviction that, however predictable their various arcs, empathy is ensured.
A few anomalies mar Scott Aiello’s overall compelling script. If Bernie is able to read – or at any rate recall text – at a first-grader’s level (she haltingly decodes passages from her favorite book, a pictorial biography of Elvis), can she be entirely incapable of basic self-care?
A crisis puts her skills to the test – and prompts her to demand more autonomy. Bernie’s declaration of semi-independence is soon followed by a parallel breakthrough for the overly compliant Laura. Two young women, very different, taking baby steps to establish and stand up for what they want? The emotional payoff is huge.