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Abandoned by her father, neglected by her mother, and freaked out by her self-scourging little sister, Ohio high-school senior Meg (Agnes Bruckner) channels her anguish into Plathian poetry. As twisted sister Lily (Regan Arnold) loses contact with reality, an advanced-placement English teacher becomes Meg’s only confidant. Mr. Auster (David Strathairn) encourages Meg to submit her most tortured opus—it’s about Dad driving away in that blue car—to a poetry contest, which sends her to the finals in exotic Florida. Arriving after some difficulty in the promised land, Meg meets Auster on the beach and is disenchanted to learn that he’s not interested solely in the shapeliness of her verse. (This is especially creepy because, although Meg is supposed to be 18, Bruckner was 16 when the film was shot—and looks it.) First-time feature maker Karen Moncrieff has said that Blue Car—a characteristically Sundancey inquiry into personal politics, set to wispy Lori Carson ballads and wispier Adam Gorgoni guitar doodles—is not autobiographical. Yet the writer-director clearly feels a special rapport for her sometimes angry, always vulnerable protagonist. Meg is expertly drawn, and deftly embodied by Bruckner, notably in a perfectly pitched moment where she denies stealing from the clothing store where she works part time. Lily, however, is half case study, half plot device. And Auster soon turns implausible, inappropriately confiding his personal traumas to Meg and leaving a toy blue car on her desk. (Uh, isn’t the blue car supposed to be a bad memory?) Ultimately, Moncrieff insists on making Auster an outright fraud, but his actions stop adding up well before the final revelations. Even if Auster is deranged by lust—and he never actually seems to be—guys don’t spend 30 years teaching high school without developing some instincts for self-preservation. Blue Car lasts about an hour past the moment when a real AP English teacher would have told Meg, “Get thee to a guidance counselor.”—Mark Jenkins