Dir: Joey Lauren Adams. US.2006. 97mins.

Response was mixed at the Sundance Film Festival inJanuary to Joey Lauren Adams' directorial debut Come Early Morning, but away from the hot-house atmosphere of ParkCity, the film will surely get a favourable second look from critics anddistributors.

A small, unpretentiouscharacter piece notable for an outstanding central performance by Ashley Judd, Come Early Morning may not break anybox-office records, but Judd's name should ensure theatrical sales in the USand overseas. The film will be of genuine appeal to smart upscale viewers,especially women, and it possesses no small future value as a TV item onfemale-skewed channels. Smart marketing revolving around the star giving herbest performance since Ruby In Paradise should establish a value for the film withmedia and audiences.

As was mentioned severaltimes in Park City, the parallels with RubyIn Paradise go beyond just the presence of Judd.It bears striking thematic and narrative similarities to that film, which wonthe grand jury prize at Sundance in 1993 and launched Judd's career into a slewof mediocre studio thrillers like Kiss The Girls, DoubleJeopardy, High Crimes and Twisted.

But in Come Early Morning, Judd isn't playing a woman in her early 20slike Ruby. Here she is Lucille Fowler, a hard-bitten southern woman in her latethirties who is far less open to change or self-discovery than Ruby.

Adams efficiently paints apicture of her protagonist in the film's opening scenes. Lucille aka Lucy works hard as a construction site manager by day,and drinks hard by night in a local bar where she picks up men for an endlessseries of one-night stands. Stumbling hungover out ofmotel rooms early in the morning is her pattern; she rarely remembers thesexual act itself.

Her father, a formermusician, has found God and essentially cut himself off from her. Hergrandparents continually fight and bicker. She lives with a young room-mate (Prepon) who has more optimistic views of life and love, butshe inevitably responds with cynicism.

The film is one of thosegentle pieces without a dramatic story arc. Director Adams steers Lucy into arelationship of sorts with Cal, a newcomer to the area (Donovan), who ispatient with her self-destructive behaviour and guides her to start having sexsober. Lucy messes up her chances with Cal, but in the process of doing so,starts to confront the shame and guilt inherited from her dysfunctional familyand establish some self-esteem. By the film's end, she is alone, but the futureis brighter than she had previously imagined.

Barely off the screen for amoment, Judd reminds us in Come Early Morning what a gifted actress she is. She never lets hertough exterior drop, never breaks down in any sentimental displays of emotion,but subtly essays her character's evolution through a fleeting painedexpression or a flicker of the eye.

The film is an assured directorialcalling card for Adams. Its quietly absorbing, well-observedhuman themes recalls the work of previous Sundance breakthroughdirectors like Victor Nunez, Allison Anders and Ira Sachs.

Production companies
Bold Films
Firm Films

International sales
Arclight Films

Executive producers
Gary Michael Walters
Dan Grodnik

Michael Litvak
Ed Bass
Julie Yorn
Holly Wiersma

Joey Lauren Adams

Tim Orr

Production design
Max Biscoe

Meg Reticker

Alan Brewer

Main cast
Ashley Judd
Jeffrey Donovan
Tim Blake Nelson
Laura Prepon
Scott Wilson
Stacy Keach
Pat Corley
Ray McKinnon
Diane Ladd