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Dandelion Reviews

First-time director Mark Milgard displays enormous promise and a surprisingly sensitive touch with this beautifully rendered tragedy about a Idaho teenager who discovers himself only after being betrayed by his own father. A daydreamer whose thoughts generally revolve around suicide, Mason Mullich (Vincent Kartheiser) has always been something of an outsider in the tight-knit farming community where his father, Luke (an excellent Arliss Howard), hopes to be elected to the town council. Depressed and cynical beyond his years, Mason has no illusions about love, and even after meeting pretty new-girl-in-town Danny Voss (HUSTLE AND FLOW standout Taryn Manning), he still believes that love is simply something people invented to make themselves feel better. Dragged from one town to another by an envious, controlling mother (Michelle Forbes) who has a knack for destroying her daughter's self-esteem with a single cutting comment, Danny has a somewhat brighter outlook; she thinks love means simply caring for someone more than one's self — a lesson she probably didn't learn at home. Luke's own love for his son is put to the test one rainy night when he accidentally runs down a drifter and then drives his car into a ditch. After dragging the drifter's body off into a cornfield and attempting to erase all signs of the accident, Luke returns home and asks Mason help him pull his car from where he'd left it. But instead of returning home right away, Mason pokes around and finds the dead body where Luke tried to hide it, and where Mason is suddenly apprehended by the police. Refusing to snitch on his father, who lets his son take the fall rather than jeopardize his political career, Mason is sentenced to the county juvenile corrections center. Two years later, during which time Luke has lost his bid for town council and Mason's mother (Mare Winningham) has retreated further into a fog of prayer and booze, Mason returns home a very different young man. No longer daydreaming about suicide, Mason has found renewed purpose in love and life and is determined to woo Danny, even though she's since become the girlfriend of the volatile brother (Shawn Reaves) of Mason's best friend, Eddie (Blake Heron). There's nothing particularly earth-shattering about this gentle drama — there are no shocking revelations, no sudden explosions of violence — but Milgard has an unerring sense for the quietly dramatic. He's also got excellent taste in music — the soundtrack includes songs by Cat Power, Sparklehorse and Doves — while Tim Orr, who captured the real grit of New York City's Lower East Side in RAISING VICTOR VARGAS, and brought grace and beauty to David Gordon Green's otherwise overrated GEORGE WASHINGTON and ALL THE REAL GIRLS, just might be the best young cinematographer working today.