The competitive world of New York book publishing forms the backdrop for Marya Cohn’s debut feature, a rather belated coming-of-age drama. Although not especially innovative in terms of setting or subject matter, the film possesses a quiet intensity and recognizable casting that eventually could help propel it beyond the festival circuit
Editorial assistant Alice (Emily Van Camp) faces an uphill battle obtaining interesting assignments from her manipulative boss Jack (Jordan Lage), who claims the most promising books to work on himself while shunting her into marketing and secretarial tasks. Outside of work, she’s barely making any progress on the novel she’s writing in her spare time, a situation frequently noted by her controlling literary agent father (Michael Cristofer). So Alice vents her frustration by pursuing one-night stands with anonymous men she picks up in trendy bars, where she downs multiple cocktails on an almost nightly basis.
Jack’s idea of a suitable project is assigning Alice to handle the marketing for the re-release of Waking Eyes, written by Milan Daneker (Michael Nyqvist), coincidentally one of her father’s clients. Their company is re-publishing the book, an incisive account of a young girl’s coming of age, to fill an extended gap between the author’s novels, so given the family connection, Jack thinks that Alice will make a suitable handler for the often unfocused Milan. Their frosty reunion after 15 years and Alice’s visible discomfort suggest that there may be more history than Jack suspects. A series of flashbacks reveals teenage Alice’s (Ana Mulvoy-Ten) father introducing her to Milan, who gradually insinuates himself as a self-described “mentor” to the budding young writer as Alice attempts to express her tumultuous thoughts as passable prose.
The furtive intensity of that experience has left Alice with long-term emotional wounds, now re-opened by her forced rapprochement with Milan. Her personal trauma isn’t obvious to Emmett (David Call), an enthusiastic guy her own age who’s totally taken with Alice as they begin to develop a deepening relationship. Whether his devotion is sufficient to persuade her to curtail her compulsive behavior or move on from her formative experience with Milan may depend on Alice taking charge of her life despite the stifling disapproval expressed by many of the people surrounding her.
Cohn displays deep sympathy with her protagonist’s intersecting emotional crises, scripting a narrative that’s intensely perceptive without becoming mired in mawkishness. Van Camp appears equally attuned to Alice’s travails, playing the distressed writer with a mixture of vulnerability, determination and compassion. Always reliable, Nyqvist struggles a bit with the role of Milan, who lacks sufficiently distinctive characterization to represent a viable threat to Alice’s well-being.
As the young Alice, Mulvoy-Ten is appropriately conflicted and confused for a teenager on the cusp of adulthood facing an unsettling personal predicament. Cohn competently handles her directorial duties, sticking closely to the indie drama playbook and avoiding appreciable stylistic flourishes.