A Simple Curve

Starring Kris Lemche and Michael Hogan. Rated PG. Opens Friday, February 3, at the Cinemark Tinseltown

A refreshing take on an overused theme of daddy issues (here presented without tissues) starts gently and gets more compelling as it glides along like a woodworker's plane smoothing over surfaces.

Joan of Arcadia veteran Kris Lemche gets an impressive workout as Caleb, a handsome and crankily articulate 27-year-old who hasn't yet been able to break away from home. Context is the only thing conveying the fact that woodworking partner Jim (Michael Hogan) is actually his dad; the film is almost half over before any family skeletons are revealed. Caleb's innate restlessness is exacerbated when perfectionist Jim turns down lucrative but aesthetically dubious work in a dwindling market. Then dad's old friend and rival Matthew (Matt Craven) flies his own aircraft into the remote Slocan Valley, looking to build a luxury lodge and maybe stir up trouble for Jim, who has stayed much truer to their hippie ways.

Caleb has recently struck up a tentative relationship with a pretty single mom (Pascale Hutton), but she finds him a bit of a flight risk-something made more apparent when a couple of granola types (Kett Turton and Sarah Lind) pitch a teepee on his land and the female of the duo gives him a pup tent of a different kind. These muddied waters dimly reflect the lad's own confusing origins, as Jim hints at in revelations about his own early days with Caleb's mom.

The film's ensemble cast is uniformly strong, even if Hogan sounds too Canuck to be a Yank draft-dodger. And Vancouver writer-director Aubrey Nealon's dialogue for his first feature is sharply amusing without resorting to sitcom wisecracks. Indeed, Caleb's smart mouth tends to shield him from reality at times-something he seems to vaguely recognize.

Equally affecting is David Geddes's varied cinematography, which takes viewers deep into and high above the gorgeous Kootenays, with sparse music providing needed lifts in the mood. The film's open ending is quietly satisfying, and you come away from Curve surprised that Nealon's hands have not been calloused by making features before this tartly lyrical ode to country life, limitations and all.