The Green Dir. Steve Williford

[Cinetic Media/FilmBuff; 2011]

Styles: drama
Others: Doubt, The Children’s Hour

The Green is the sort of well-intentioned drama you keep hoping will get better, even though you know it’s doomed from the start. The film engenders pervasive discomfort, not from its serious, troubling subject matter, but from its almost total failure to achieve the sense of truth it seeks.

In an idyllic Connecticut town, a troubled teen (Chris Bert) accuses a high school teacher (Jason Butler Harner) of improper sexual conduct. Because the teacher is gay, the grudging tolerance most of his neighbors and colleagues have shown him and his partner (Cheyenne Jackson) quickly turns to hostility. The strain of the ensuing investigation causes the couple to alienate their few friends and each other.

All of this is telegraphed during an awkward first act laden with portentous classroom discussions about persecution. But rather than delve into the harrowing implications of its story, The Green keeps feinting and shifting, introducing new characters and plot twists that seem more random than imaginative. Effective, subtle moments are scattered amid the labored Sturm und Drang, as when a building contractor guiltily backs out on the beleaguered couple or when Harner reveals a long-ago infidelity. But every time The Green threatens to get interesting, it swerves into the kind of melodrama in which characters make egregiously bad decisions, not because real people would act that way, but because the discursive plot requires them to. The performers (with the exception of a refreshingly relaxed Julia Ormond as a cunning lawyer) never find a rhythm with the stilted screenplay, while director Steve Williford (making his feature debut) experiments with visual styles before settling into dull anonymity.

The theme of homophobia is explored earnestly but ineptly. On a more troubling note, the subject of sexual abuse of a minor by an adult — initially the source of a false accusation — is raised for real very late in the movie. But instead of confronting it, the filmmakers exploit it for a shocking plot twist before dispatching the cardboard villain in a bloody climax. It’s a distastefully cheap moment in a film that, for all its failures, otherwise has its heart in the right place.

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