`Evergreen' is tale of poor girl that's rich in charm


September 10, 2004|By Jay Boyar | Jay Boyar,ORLANDO SENTINEL

Henri is a nice, intelligent 14-year-old girl whose family happens to be poor.

She and her mother, Kate, have to move around a lot, lugging everything they own from place to place in battered suitcases and clumsy black trash bags. For the moment, they have nowhere to stay but in a cramped, messy shack with Kate's elderly mother, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.

As the movie begins, Henri (short for Henrietta) is just starting at a school that's also attended by upper-middle-class students. Chat, a boy from a well-to-do family, notices the pretty girl and, over her objection, buys her an espresso. Soon Henri is spending a lot of time at his family's home. She likes him - but she loves that big, comfortable house. The green in Evergreen is the color of envy.

Written and directed by newcomer Enid Zentelis, Evergreen marks an impressive debut. Zentelis doesn't seem to have it in her to be flashy or crude. It's typical of her approach, for example, to trust us to understand why Henri never allows Chat to come to her grandmother's place - that she doesn't want him to know how poor she is.

Actually, there are many subtle ways that Henri squirms to avoid betraying her poverty.

At one point, Susan, Chat's kindhearted, agoraphobic mother, invites Henri to join them for a chicken dinner. Not wishing to appear too eager, Henri passes, even as her green eyes yearn to taste that meal.

In another scene, Henri and Chat are in Chat's room when she asks if she can lie down on his bed. He's thinking sex; actually, she just wants to spread out on that big, comfy mattress.

It's only when Henri's around her family and her mother's new boyfriend - a Native American casino worker named Jim whom she doesn't much like - that she drops her facade. When Jim asks where they're from, Henri has a tart reply:

"We're from the country called Dirt Poor. It's very special."

Terrific newcomer Addie Land's natural poise convinces you that Henri can pass for middle-class around Chat and his parents. Her alert eyes tell you Henri doesn't miss a thing and that, when push comes to shove, she can improvise.

Evergreen is hard to categorize. And despite its high quality, it's the sort of movie that can easily slip through the cracks. It's understated, observant, touching, funny and smart.

As Henri would say, it's very special.


Starring Addie Land, Mary Kay Place, Bruce Davison, Cara Seymour

Directed by Enid Zentelis

Rated PG-13 (sexual content, language)

Released by Evergreen Films

Time 86 minutes

SUN SCORE * * * *

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