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'Lebanon, Pa' no bologna

Published May 19. 2011 05:22PM

There's almost a genre of independent films with seemingly ironic names for actual geographic places as their titles.

For example, there's "Paris, Texas," "Scotland, Pa." and "Truth or Consequences, N.M."

And now there's "Lebanon, Pa."

Bethlehem Steel is long-gone from Lebanon, when thirtysomething Will (Josh Hopkins), a Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, advertising firm account executive arrives in his green "Punch Buggy" (retro VW Beetle) for his father's funeral.

There, Will is befriended by his cousin, Andy (Ian Merrill Peakes), a single dad who lives across the street in the working-class neighborhood, with his son, Chase (Hunter Gallagher) and daughter, C.J. (Rachel Kitson).

C.J., a high-school senior, confides to Will that she is pregnant. Andy wants C.J. to have the baby and marry the father. C.J. has her sights set on attending Drexel University.

Meanwhile, down at Fran's Bar, during a game of darts, Will meets and becomes infatuated with C.J.'s married school teacher, Vicki (Samantha Mathis). Will's mother Jennette (Mary Beth Hurt) can't understand why he still hasn't put dear old dad's house on the market.

Will finds something real in Lebanon. And that's no baloney.

"Lebanon, Pa." has a great look for what must have been a film made on a miniscule budget. Director of photography Marc Jeff Schirmer's scene framing is formalistic early on, representing Will's post-"Mad Men" locked-in mentality, becoming more casual later on as Will opens up to his and others' feelings.

It's fun to see the Philly skyline other than on the city's TV newscasts, as well as rolling Pennsylvania hills, replete with cows, cornfields and white-silo farms.

The story-driven, character study drama has a straight-forward approach to material.

Writer-director-editor Ben Hickernell ("Cellar," 2005), a Philadelphia-based film-maker, has created a film with few missteps, except for a couple of ineffective slow-motion and echoed voices sequences.

For the most part, the dialogue, plot and emotional core are not only believable, but very moving. This is a two-Kleenex film.

Hopkins (TV's "Cougartown," "Private Practice") gives a nicely-nuanced performance of compassion, depth and character arc.

Mathis (TV's "Grey's Anatomy") is refreshingly disarming in a de-glammed, thoroughly convincing role.

Kitson (in her feature debut) projects inner vulnerability masked by bravado charm.

Peakes (who has appeared at Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, DeSales University) conveys a rough-around-the edges yet caring father memorably.

"Lebanon, Pa." is the kind of film that will provoke thought, soul-searching and discussion long after the blockbusters have left the multiplexes.

Credit Readers' Anonymous: "Lebanon, Pa." was indeed filmed in Lebanon, as well as Philadelphia and Upper Darby.

Box Office, May 13: "Thor" proved God-like, ruling for a second straight week, with $34.5 million and $119.2 million, two weeks, keeping unlucky "Bridesmaids" waiting at the altar, opening at No. 2 with a solid $24.4 million for a romantic comedy.

3. "Fast Five," $19.5 million, $168.7 million, three weeks, 4. "Priest," opening, $14.5 million; 5. "Rio," $8 million, $124.9 million, five weeks; 6. "Jumping the Broom," $7.3 million, $25.9 million, two weeks; 7. "Something Borrowed," $7 million, $25.6 million, two weeks; 8. "Water for Elephants," $4.1 million, $48.4 million, four weeks; 9. "Madea's Big Happy Family," $2.2 million, $50.2 million, four weeks; 10. "Soul Surfer," $1.8 million, $39.2 million, six weeks. "Lebanon, Pa." grossed $6,675 on two screens in its May 1 opening and $16,656, as of May 8.

Unreel, May 20:

"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," PG-13: Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) crosses paths with Angelica, a woman from his past (Penelope Cruz), and he's not sure if it's love or if she's a ruthless con artist who's using him to find the Fountain of Youth. When she forces him aboard the Queen Anne's Revenge, the ship of Blackbeard the Pirate (Ian McShane), Jack doesn't know who to fear more: Blackbeard or Angelica. Geoffrey Rush and Keith Richards are back as Barbossa and Captain Teague. Rob Marshall ("Chicago") directs the movie, showing in 2-D, 3-D and Imax 3-D. Let the summer movies begin.

"Midnight in Paris," PG-13: Woody Allen directs Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Adrien Brody, Kathy Bates, Marion Cotillard and Michael Sheen in a romantic comedy about a family traveling to Paris, France.

Still showing: "Potiche," R, Civic Theatre of Allentown Theatre 514: "Certified Copy," unrated, ArtsQuest Alehouse Cinema; opening May 20, Civic Theatre 514. The run of "Lebanon, Pa." has been extended at the Alehouse Cinema.

"Lebanon, Pa.": MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13) for thematic material and some sexual content; Genre: Drama; Run time: 1 hr., 40 min.

Read previous movie reviews at Email Paul Willistein at: and on Facebook.

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