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‘Kelly & Cal’: Hey! Ho! Former punk rocker refuses to grow!

By Bruce Ingram/For Sun-Times Media

It’s easy to see how an unhappy transition to suburban mommyhood might be enough to unhinge any self-respecting former punk rocker but, even so, it’s a little hard to take the angst-ridden mid-life shenanigans in “Kelly & Cal” seriously.

Especially since it takes our anguished heroine sooooooo long to figure out whether or not she really wants to do what she’s clearly been flirting with from the start.

Kelly (Juliette Lewis) is a long way from her wild and free past, which included a stint playing bass with a riot grrrl band called the Wetnaps. Now she’s a middle-aged mom with a newborn, eternally crying baby, a loving but undemonstrative husband (Josh Hopkins) and a big house in the suburbs where she has to sneak cigarettes in the back yard. That’s where she makes the acquaintance of next-door-neighbor Cal (Jonny Weston), a high-school senior in a wheelchair after a spinal injury, who bums a cigarette over a fence, plays it cool while blowing some smoke rings and compliments her on her breasts.

And that, believe it or not, is the beginning of their painfully fraught romantic friendship. Suburban life has been stifling for Kelly, who feels like a failure as a mom and has to put up with the passive-aggressive oppressiveness of her mother-in-law (Cybill Shepherd) and sister-in-law (Lucy Own) and has been reduced to fantasizing about George Clooney thanks to her husband’s lack of sexual interest. So she’s flattered that Cal makes no secret of his attraction, which he expresses in terms that are less than courtly. Plus, he’s a kindred spirit — smart, cocky, artistic and, since his accident, a social outsider.

He appreciates her rebellious past, especially when she dyes her hair turquoise and starts playing her band’s rocking old songs for him, which he digs. Though, let’s face it, the kid’s a randy 17-year-old. He probably wouldn’t care if they came across like Taylor Swift.

On the plus side, “Kelly & Cal” features nice chemistry between Weston (the ultra-wholesome surfer boy in last year’s “Chasing Mavericks”) and Lewis, a savvy casting choice considering her edgy early roles in films like “Natural Born Killers” and the time she spent fronting her own band, the Licks. They manage to keep things at least marginally interesting while he processes anger and lovesickness and she gets back in touch with youthful Kelly — while not-so-youthful Kelly frets that maybe this isn’t such a great idea.

Unfortunately, the story starts to wobble halfway though while debut director Jen McGowan and screenwriter Amy Lowe Starbin dither about whether or not Kelly and Cal are going to roll across the sure-to-be disastrous sexual line. The line ends up blurred to the point where it’s difficult to be fully invested in the Big Emotional Developments of the final act.

That doesn’t, in the end, devalue the poignant point of the story—that each of them has some growing up to do.

[s3r star=2.5/4]

IFC Films presents a film directed by Jen McGowan and written by Amy Lowe Starbin. Running time: 107 minutes. No MPAA rating. Opens Friday at the Wilmette Theatre.