VIDEO: Cadillac Ranch

Cadillac Ranch
BMG Independents

Like describing a particularly great meal or, worse, a good dream, there is always something emotionally unsettling about a movie you love. It ricochets through the skull before settling in the gut; the tears can follow. First-time director Lisa Gottlieb has effected that kind of response with Cadillac Ranch, a should-be-conventional movie that instead transcends its predictable plot.

C.J. (Suzy Amis), the eldest of three sisters, would be the rebel in any other film. Here, however, her streak of dissent is belied her face: like Ashley Judd's shockingly marred appearance in Heat, C.J. looks older than she is, and older than she should. Along with her sisters, C.J. lives in a perpetual reaction to the absence of her father. Though they all believe themselves to be abandoned, their father was jailed in a frame-up; the hundreds of love letters he has sent his daughters have been maliciously waylaid. After bailing C.J. out of jail, the women set off for the last place they saw him: Cadillac Ranch, Texas's stonehenge of Caddies buried nose-first in the sand.

Gottlieb casts astonishing actresses (Amis, Caroleen Feeney, and Reneé Humphrey), and remains unpretentiously committed to an independent-film aesthetic where nothing is clean or slick. The costuming is unglamorous. The bodies seem weighty and tired (except for the pinch-hitting brought in as a kinder version of Brad Pitt's Thelma and Louise boy toy). The relationships among the three women are thankfully believable: adulatory but reluctant and measured. The happy ending, nice as it is, becomes cursory in comparison to all the rest that is like real life--that which is troubled, unresolved. That which stays with you.

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