Girlfriend: Justin Lerner’s Debut

“Girlfriend,” the feature debut of writer-director Justin Lerner (who had previously made the short “The Replacement Child”) is a tender, often moving tale, extremely well acted by the entire ensemble.

The film, which premiered last year at the Toronto Film Fest, is now being released theatrically in major cities stateside.

Evan Gray, a youngster with Down syndrome, lives with his mother in a working-class town whose economy and everyday life suffer badly due to the recent Recession.

Evan is hopelessly in love with his high school crush, Candy, a single mom who is facing insurmountable debt, possible eviction, and a relentless volatile, ex-boyfriend named Russ.

When Evan unexpectedly inherits a large sum of money, he decides to pursue Candy more actively by helping her out of her financial crisis. Though hesitant, Candy accepts Evan’s generous offer, but she’s unable to return what matters to him the most—real love.

The rest of the engaging tale details the emotionally intense entanglement as Russ, Candy and Evan become intertwined in a triangle defined by secrets and jealousies and ultimately revenge.

Even so, the mood is rather upbeat, and despite facing many struggles and hardships, Evan maintains his compassionate spirit and dignity.

Quite impressively, newcomer Evan Sneider is effective at navigating the various moods and different emotions that his character goes through, from tender love all the way to intense anger with a touch of violence.