Come Early Morning
comes as a mid-afternoon career correction for Ashley Judd, an actress oft dissed in the years since her fresh, breakout performance in the indie gemRuby in Paradise
. No mystery there: what other lovely and talented woman has appeared in such a string of crummy serial-killer movies? By redemptive contrast,Come Early Morning
suggests a de facto sequel toRuby
13 years down the road. Again Judd limpidly portrays a young Southern woman, Lucy, trying to get free of a debilitating heritage--dysfunctional family on every side--and find her way to some kind of contentment. Lucy makes more bad decisions than Ruby did. For her, early morning isn't so much a new day as the hour when she faces waking up with one more guy she couldn't care less about. She plans it that way, because commitment is something she flees with grim resolve. But she also knows that the program isn't working for her.
The writing-directing debut of another offbeat actress, Joey Lauren Adams (Chasing Amy), this is a beautifully observed film, free of condescension toward its Arkansas folk, with an appreciative eye for the plain beauties of small-town life and semi-rural roads, and a sharp ear for three-cushion dialogue. "Did I miss Easter?" Lucy's housemate quietly cracks when she finds Lucy dressed for Sunday-go-to-meetin'; Lucy's trying to reconnect with her estranged dad (a magical, almost wordless performance by the wonderful Scott Wilson), who's started attending "a new holy-roller church." She also meets a newcomer (Jeffrey Donovan, excellent) who ought to be Mr. Right ... but nothing quite plays out according to formulaic expectation in this movie--among the most satisfying of 2006, which most people are going to have to discover on DVD. --Richard T. Jameson