Lebanon, Pa. begins as a tale about male, middle-aged self-discovery, but soon becomes something quite different: a clear-eyed if crassly manipulative take on the culture wars. Driving out to Rick Santorum country for his father’s funeral, slightly douchy Philadelphia ad exec Will (Josh Hopkins) discovers the pleasures of rural life, at least until he uncovers its uglier aspects—and his story fades from the film’s center. That place is taken up by his distant cousin CJ (Rachel Kitson), a 17-year-old Drexel University–bound high-schooler who happens to be pregnant. In a town militantly anti-choice, it’s simply expected that the young woman will go through the birth. Writer-director Ben Hickernell smartly avoids rural caricature as he ensures that even his most closed-minded characters have their reasons, no matter how dubious. It’s refreshing, as well, to see a film in which a teenage character doesn’t automatically toss away her future due to an unwanted pregnancy, but there’s never any doubt about what CJ’s choice will be. Hickernell stacks the rhetorical deck so heavily in favor of the young woman’s abortion that her indecision begins to seem less like the realistic uncertainty of a teen in a tough situation than the necessary waffling required to ensure the emotive force of the final payoff.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 27, 2011