Angels in Stardust
by Phil Boatwright

Alicia Silverstone (Clueless), AJ Michalka (Super8, Grace Unplugged), Billy Burke (Twilight movies, Revolution). Arc Entertainment. Running Time: 96 Minutes.

Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual material, some menace, language, smoking and teen drinking.

FILM SYNOPSIS: Vallie Sue (AJ Michalka), a young teenager with big dreams, lives in a desolate, gritty little town, built on the site of an old drive-in movie theater. The townspeople and her own mother (Alicia Silverstone) barely pay attention to her, but she finds solace from a mystical cowboy who appears to her on the side of a dilapidated barn. Despite her mother’s scandalous ways as she seeks a husband, and the dangerous men who live in the same trailer park, Vallie holds onto her dream of becoming a writer while at the same time caring for others.

PREVIEW REVIEW: Throughout, I was reminded of Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show, as it also dealt with the intertwining lives of the residents a very small rural town. The teens fear that their lives will also become stuck in the nowhereness of their elders’ existence. That film was somewhat insightful, though it also missed an important element to life: the faith component.

Though extremely well made, I can’t give The Last Picture Show as an alternative, due to the R-rated language and sexual content. And sadly, the heartfelt Angels in Stardust wouldn’t be my alternative suggestion for The Last Picture Show.

Not exactly episodic, but Angels in Stardust doesn’t flow. It seems awkward and lacks much humor to offset the constant pathos jammed down our throats. And in Angels in Stardust, preachers of the gospel are portrayed dogmatically, giving little example of God’s grace, while followers of Native American mysticism are the thoughtful, brave and sympathetic characters.

Ms. Michalka is the one uplifting equation in this otherwise depressing film. I’m not yet sold on her as a movie star, but she has potential for becoming a true actress. With her smoky voice and sincere goodness, she manages to hold our attention and cause us to root for her. Time and again, her character proves unselfish as she looks out for her self-centered mother, her BFF who tends decidedly toward more sexually aggressive ways, and her lonely little brother who’s in desperate need of a parental figure.

It’s not a bad movie, but just one that never quite manages to become as poignant as it wants to be. As it is, we are left with unanswered questions and an inconclusive moral. Yes, it does have a hopeful ending, but we have to go through a lot of negative to get to one moment of passive possibility.

DVD Alternatives: Grace Unplugged. This Prodigal Daughter tale concerns the talented 18-year-old child of a former rock star who wants to find her own fame. It also stars AJ Michalka. The premise is certainly timely as we see former Disney Channel stars change their image in order to stay relevant in a pop-culture world that demands change over talent. It’s the movie Miley Cyrus should see.

The Boy with Green Hair. Dean Stockwell, Pat O'Brien. A fable about a war orphan who becomes an outcast when his hair turns green. Although when made the film spoke of European children whose parents were killed in the war, today's audiences get a poignant message about the discrimination children with AIDS must face. The film has a great look, some of it in B&W, some scenes filmed in color.

To Kill A Mockingbird. Gregory Peck gives his best performance, aided by Horton Foote's winning screenplay of the Harper Lee novel about rural life, justice, honor and bigotry as seen through the eyes of a nine-year-old girl. A beautifully photographed black-and-white movie with a haunting score by Elmer Bernstein. Other Horton Foote screenplays paying tribute to old-fashioned ethics: Tender Mercies, The Trip to Bountiful.

Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken. Gabrielle Anwar is outstanding in this true story about a courageous teenage girl searching for her place in life and finding an unusual answer to her dreams as she becomes a Big Top stunt rider. Rated G, it’s more suitable for older teens.