Emory Cohen’s performance elevates juvenile-detention-center drama Stealing Cars above the level of disturbing cautionary tale: His Billy, landed in the Bernville Camp for Boys after drunkenly stealing a car, is witty and constantly questioning authority, with a quick grin that keeps him from being an unlikable tough.
Billy may be a bad seed (he was dealing drugs before graduating to grand theft auto), but Cohen plays him as a mostly smart young man who is willing to protect his peers when needed. Billy’s family life is left blurry, marred by a hugely tragic event we glimpse in intriguing (though still unsatisfying) flashbacks.
Stealing Cars operates on a very masculine energy, and while it can be interesting to see what happens when so many bad boys end up dealing with the often unfair consequences of their actions, the flatness of the few female characters robs the film of depth. A scene in which Billy’s mother (Felicity Huffman) visits has the potential for emotional weight, but we see little of exactly why their relationship is so challenged, other than Billy’s anger in the moment.
Bernville’s nurse (Heather Lind) becomes something of an ally (and awkward, temporary romantic partner) to Billy, but she seems largely to be battling her own unspecified demons. When he tells her that “Maybe you can’t get really found until you get really lost,” the sentiment seems beneath Billy, a character who’s already proved himself adept with literary references and jokes. Once a woman is involved, he gives in to motivational-poster-speak. Such a moment may be frustrating, but most of Stealing Cars conjures an atmosphere that isn’t quite so saccharine.
Directed by Bradley Jay Kaplan
Opens April 1, Village East Cinema
Available on demand