Various Positions

Starring Tygh Runyan and Carly Pope. Rated 14A. Opens Friday, May 27, at the Cinemark Tinseltown

A family sits around a dinner table. The son pleads with his father: "She isn't Jewish; she's an art student," referring to his girlfriend who just hours before was ousted from the table by his family. "It would be better to disown a son than to let in a goy," the father coldly retorts. And this is a comedy!

This not particularly funny scene defines the central dilemma in Vancouver director Ori Kowarsky's promising yet ultimately flawed feature-film debut, Various Positions.

Things start well. I was instantly engaged by the tale of Josh and Cheryth (Tygh Runyan and Carly Pope, respectively), two impassioned collegiate types who struggle with the challenge of clashing lifestyles. Although generally lax in his own faith, Josh is the devoted son of a strictly observant, Orthodox family, while Cheryth is merely Jewish on her father's side, and non-practising in any case. On campus, their romance develops fervently, but complications arise when Josh makes the mistake of introducing the punky girl to his family at their Seder dinner.

Mostly, Kowarsky steers the Star of David-crossed lovers' plot well. But at the film's climax, we are introduced to Marcel (Daniel Gillies), Cheryth's radical-activist, and cheesily French, friend. Under his influence, she inexplicably shifts from slightly unstable, kooky coed to hooded revolutionary vandal. Rather than tying together plot threads, Kowarsky dangles a new rope from which to hang himself.

There are some good reasons to try Various Positions. Robert Aschmann's high-definition cinematography is stunning; the screen glows in alternating shades of warm amber and fluorescent blue, giving the movie a sharply defined look. The spare and sophisticated musical score is bang-on and was created by the multitalented Runyan and his band. The casting is strong, particularly when it comes to Michal Suchánek, priceless as Tzvi, Josh's plucky, would-be rabbi brother. And, most importantly, the leads could start their own chemistry lab-even if they don't seem to be very dedicated students.