In some markets, Finding Amanda has already found its way to cable, with Magnolia Pictures having made a pay-per-sneak-preview available starting two weeks prior to a limited theatrical release. But don’t let the film’s inauspicious rollout sour your opinion: Though writer-director Peter Tolan’s feature directorial debut is far from flawless, saddled with an occasionally uneven tone and stars no splashier than Matthew Broderick and Brittany Snow, this story about a compulsive gambler and his prostitute niece is funny, touching, and original enough to warrant a look.
Broderick plays Taylor, a washed-up television writer who has managed to stay sober for two years but can’t quite give up playing the ponies. To do so, he lies and steals checks from his wife, Lorraine (Maura Tierney), whenever his debts outweigh his income from writing a sitcom everyone hates. When Lorraine discovers that her sister’s 20-year-old daughter, Amanda (Snow), has taken up drugs and hooking after moving to Las Vegas—as well as finds out that Taylor’s been betting again—Taylor sees the crisis as a way to redeem himself. The family wants Amanda in rehab, so Taylor heads to Vegas to find her…and maybe win back some dough.
The interplay between Broderick and Snow ultimately makes Finding Amanda more enjoyable than it should be. Snow’s hooker doesn’t have a heart of gold, nor of ice—Amanda’s bubbly, sharp, and matter-of-fact, pleased as punch that her new profession has bought her a home she considers a sanctuary and quick to point out that Taylor’s more in need of rehab than she. Taylor, meanwhile, can be infuriating whenever he refuses to come clean to his wife or allows himself to further relapse, vice by vice. But he’s honest with Amanda, and the character is imbued with Broderick’s usual low-key likability and dry humor. (When a male bartender mistakes Taylor’s request for some company by offering his services and saying, “I’m superhung, if it makes any difference,” Taylor’s answer is a quick, “It doesn’t.”)
Romantic issues plague both of their lives, too, allowing the film to blossom beyond a gimmicky setup that makes good use of the standard perv line “I’m her uncle!” into a rumination about flawed people—know any?—and the relationships that can be so crucial to keeping someone prone to bad choices from, in Taylor’s words, “just spinning off the goddamn planet.” Tolan not only refuses to pass judgment on his characters, he makes sure to highlight their good qualities as well. Even if your greatest transgression is leaving the cap off the toothpaste, it’s a comforting approach.