‘Lately I’ve been gettin’ this creepy feeling that she thinks we’re datin’,” teenage lost-boy Dennis (Christopher Denham) tells twentysomething lost-girl Frances (Katherine Waterston). This being an Adam Rapp joint, he’s talking about his cancer-wracked mom Maryanne (a superb Annette O’Toole).
And he loves/hates his mother, in the fashion of all Rapp’s fugitive youths. They’re taking an excruciatingly “special” trip together to New York, but Dennis won’t squire her to the middlebrow musical she’s obsessed with (a Rent stand-in called Survivin’). So Maryanne— a ferociously pitiful totem of tottering Middle America—defiantly takes a friendly cabdriver (Ray Anthony Thomas) instead, leaving Dennis at the hotel. There he meets Frances, who prods the proceedings forcefully, clumsily, a bit annoyingly, into the purview of Major Drama.
Or maybe just melodrama? Kindness never quite fills out its baggy dimensions, and feels stranded between Rapp’s usual wintry squalor and his riskier epic instincts, the ones on display in elastically absurd works like Essential Self Defense. His exquisitely wry agonies feel like they’re starting to pucker into contempt and exhaustion. Pace yourself, Mr. Rapp: The American decline is just beginning.