XX/XY Written and directed by Austin Chick (IFC, opens April 11, at the Sunshine) It’s 1993, and everybody at Sarah Lawrence is working on their night moves, rubbing through boozy apartments, cabbing to raves, practice-breeding to unpracticed Breeders. In a movie that’s two-thirds flashback (and could have been called Ex, Ex, Ex, Why?), real-life grown-ups Mark Ruffalo (struggling artist Coles), Maya Stange (aristo party-girl Sam), and Kathleen Robertson (pre-Pink punk babe Thea) struggle to workshop up that inarticulate blur of collegiate profligacy. ‘Course, it’s all first-timer Austin Chick’s setup to give Ruffalo’s rumply solipsist a reality bite when, a decade later, a reunion with his pals exposes the habituated haze of his ad-exec life with willowy live-in girlfriend (the impeccablyappointed Petra Wright), who we realize is a keeper when she buys Coles a Claire Denis box set. Still, Chick’s flick poignantly outsdental floss as emblematic of soul-deadened maturity. —Laura Sinagra

Manna From Heaven Directed by Gabrielle C. Burton and Maria Burton (Five Sisters, in release) A scattered assortment of ne’er-do-well Buffalonians come upon a fortune that seemingly “rains from the heavens.” (The audience is privy to the fact that the dough actually blew out the back of a truck.) A decade later, Theresa (Ursula Burton, one of the production company’s “five sisters,” two of whom directed), now a nun, has a spiritual epiphany that the money was just a loan that must be repaid. In the process of fundraising (with no specific charitable goal in mind) they, uh, grow. Manna haplessly pairs accomplished professionals (including Shelley Duvall, Shirley Jones, and Cloris Leachman) with unassured greenhorns. It’s shot like a Lifetime-influenced student film, and the overall artlessness makes the spoony dialogue all the more glaring. —Nat Johnson

What a Girl Wants Directed by Dennie Gordon (Warner Bros., in release) A culture-shock/daddy-meets-girl romantic comedy, WAGW is a sanitized adventure for the Mary Kate-and-Ashley set. Nickelodeon moppet Amanda Bynes stars as Daphne, a bohemian New York-raised love child who impulsively jets off to London to reunite with her unwitting father (the adorable Colin Firth, wasted here). Lord Dashwood, in the midst of a difficult political campaign, naturally welcomes his daughter into British society at the first bat of her baby blues, and the only things in the way of the happy family are Firth’s social-climbing fiancée and her jealous daughter (Christina Cole, a dead ringer for Reese Witherspoon). Ensuing are duck-pond mishaps, motorcycle chases, and a whole lotta watered-down rock and roll—strangely, both Daphne’s mother and love interest, Ian, are wedding singers. However, in true deference to the tween-girl audience, nothing in the movie is taken as seriously as the clothes; the blank-faced Bynes shows real excitement only when trying on an Indian-print sarong from a Thames-side market or pulling a Scarlett O’Hara on a stuffy ball gown. —Anya Kamenetz

Fatal Fallout Directed by Gary Null (Gary Null Productions, Through April 10, at Village East) Been wondering lately what might happen if a 757 flew smack into the Indian Point nuclear power plant? (Just so you know, the metro evacuation plan is bullhooey, and duct tape’s not gonna help either.) Alternative health nut/mogul and controversial WBAI talk-show host Gary Null convenes an articulate gaggle of talking heads (no nuke industry takers, natch) to address this possibility, as well as outline the risks we face from daily “low-level” radioactive emissions and the planet’s infinite inheritance of unstorable nuclear waste. Though much of this doc reiterates what thinking folk have been freaking on for years (long-term effects of Hiroshima, bomb testing, and the Three Mile Island meltdown) it’s not conspiracy-theoretical to assume that global instability heightens the risk of near-future disaster. The scaaaary myooosic behind kids on swings is overkill, but a soberly delivered cell’s-eye view of free-radical-spurred mutation and metastasis is not. (Sinagra)

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 8, 2003

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