DVD Review - Lebanon, PA

I was worried that this movie was going to be about a man from a big city who goes to his small, hometown and realizes his metropolitan life is meaningless or empty and that happiness is awaiting for him in rural America. There have been enough pastoral fantasies like that, and I'm rather sick of them. Not that I disliked Sweet Home Alabama, but I was thankful that this wasn't the male version of that.

Josh Hopkins stars as Will, an advertising executive who leaves Philadelphia, one of the ten largest cities in the nation, to visit Lebanon, Pennsylvania, a farming town in Amish country a couple of hours northwest of the big town. Will, in a moment of frustration, curses the city and even Rittenhouse Square, one of Philadelphia's most popular areas. Being a native of Philly, I was ready to curse Will for it, but, writer-director Ben Hickernell doesn't make this movie that simple or cliche.

Despite Hopkins being tall, handsome, well-built and charming, despite his character being the first and last one you see, this movie really isn't about him. He's more or less just a conduit, a way into a deeper story. When Will arrives in Lebanon, he meets CJ, his 17-year-old, second cousin, played by Rachel Kitson. The movie is really about her. The movie really is about CJ, and, as such, it's a more of a realistic take on Juno (2007) or Saved! (2004).

Will has an affair with a local schoolteacher named Vicki, played by Samantha Mathis who is lovely and has great chemistry with Hopkins. Nevertheless, the affair becomes the B-story. The issue that CJ faces is the A-story, and it puts her at odds with her widowed father, a very religious and conservative man named Andy, played by Ian Merrill Peakes.

Peakes gives the best performance of anyone here. Hopkins is certainly cut from the same cloth as the Hollywood leading man and gently holds the audience's hand as he guides us through this tale, but Peakes is the one who truly gets us to empathize with him. One particular scene, which has him acting on the opposite side of a locked door, is absolutely heartbreaking.

Right-wing conservatives might not like where this movie ultimately goes, but all the actors here are so genuine and sincere. The writing is selfsame that this movie feels near perfect.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for thematic material and sexual content.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 40 mins.


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