With or Without You

Writer-director Wendell Jon Andersson shows an impressive command of technique in his feature directorial debut, With or Without You, a youth melodrama revolving around two twentysomething students, whose lives change as a result of an unwanted pregnancy.

Though crisply shot and smoothly edited, script, which was developed at the Sundance Institute, is bogged down by stereotypical portrayal of some of the main characters, ultimately giving the impression that the tale is not much more than an updated version of 50s American movies about rebellious and misunderstood kids. A niche movie with strong appeal to young viewers, pic may deserve a limited theatrical distribution in select markets.

Yarn begins with a steamy sex scene between Alex (Kristoffer Winters) and Zoe (Marisa Ryan), at the end of which she shockingly informs him that this is their last meeting as old b.f. James (Dylan Roy), with whom she's infatuated, is back from Europe. Deeply hurt, Alex declares love, claiming that, though he knew there was another man in the background, their six-week affair represented much more than sex to him.

The couple separate, but, surrounded with mutual friends, they keep running into one other. Alex observes with anger and jealousy how Zoe is mistreated by her lover in public. Heartbroken, he confides his intimate feelings in his close friend, Misha (Rachel True), who works with him at a coffee shop, but avoids spending time with his eccentric roommate, Harold (Jim Lichtscheidl), an obnoxious nudge.

Things change when Zoe discovers she is pregnant and is unsure whether to keep the baby. Told that he's the father, Alex becomes even more committed to her, willing to establish a family. The ensuing melodrama details how the two immature youngsters are forced together in an uneasy, unconventional relationship, with neither one knowing what to expect and how to make the most out of it without hurting the other.

Plot contains enough twists and turns to make it engaging for a while, though writing is decidedly uneven. Meller suffers from one-dimensional characterizations in the case of Zoe's shrill, manipulative mother, Harold, and others, which violate the fresh, original pitch of the other figures. Though intended as an honest chronicle of self-discovery and maturation, pic is marred by quite a few scenes that in their jokey, caricaturistic tone belong to a TV sitcom.

Nonetheless, even when With or Without You begins to falter, as it does in its later sections, Andersson's touch remains steady, giving the film an undeniable urgency and contempo feel and look, immensely assisted by Cummins' sharp lensing and Windemacher's vibrant score.

Ryan, who made strong impact in Love Always and Slaves to the Underground is a gifted thesp, but she tends to overact and her mannerisms make Zoe's character even harsher and more self-absorbed than it must have been on page. Well-cast, Winters is credible as the kind and romantic idealist, willing to pursue the dictates of his heart beyond any rational calculations.

Pic's real discovery is the gorgeous-looking Rachel True, who has previously appeared in The Craft and in a number of indies, most recently in Gregg Araki's Nowhere. Endowed with a lovely presence and interesting voice to match, True seems ready to assume her position in the forefront of young leading ladies.