Cautiously directed by first-time filmmaker Michael Meyer but superbly acted, Michael Cunningham's adaptation of his own debut novel is a perfect example of how a top-flight cast can compensate for unimaginative filmmaking. Cleveland, 1974: Although only 15, Bobby Morrow (Erik Smith) has already experienced more tragedy than most adults. When Bobby was only 9, his beloved older brother, Carlton (Ryan Donowho), who first exposed Bobby to LSD and Jefferson Airplane, was killed when he accidentally crashed through a sliding glass door. Bobby's bereaved mother (Wendy Crewson) later died of an overdose of pills, leaving his father (Ron Lea) alone to slowly drink himself to death. Luckily, Bobby has his best friend, Jonathan Glover (Harris Allan), with whom he shares everything, including drugs. Jonathan's mom, Alice (Sissy Spacek), also falls under Bobby's spell — she even succumbs to temptation and regularly gets stoned with the boys — and after Bobby's father finally dies in his sleep, she invites Bobby into her home. She also teaches him how to cook. Bobby stays with the Glovers even after Alice catches him fooling around with her son, even after Jonathan leaves for college in New York City. It's only in 1982, when Alice and her ailing husband, Ned (Matt Frewer), announce that they're moving to Arizona, that Bobby (now played by Colin Farrell in a long fright wig) finally packs his things and moves in with Jonathan (Dallas Roberts), who's now living as an openly gay man in Manhattan's East Village with his kooky, slave-of-New-York friend Clare (Robin Wright Penn). Together they form a happy, albeit unconventional, family unit, but disaster lurks in the shape of jealousy and something far more devastating. It's inevitable than any screenplay based on a novel will lose the source material's purely literary elements, and Cunningham sacrifices the alternating first-person interior monologues that brought his characters to vivid life. But Meyer, whose previous directing work was for the stage, fails to compensate with any sort of effective cinematic substitute; he seems unwilling to take any risks at all. Cunningham, surprisingly, is also at a loss for a way to flesh out these flattened characters, so it's up to the adult cast to turn them into people. Although they're more than up to the task (Roberts, a theater star making his film debut, is particularly good), the life that should be unfolding around them still feel like a series of edits and ellipses.