Kudos to Lebanon writer-director Ben Hickernell for making a movie set near Amish country that does not feature a single horse and buggy.
Instead, front and center in this low-key character piece is the slowly dissolving and reassembling life of Will (Josh Hopkins from Cougartown), who takes leave from his Philadelphia ad job to attend his estranged father’s funeral in Lebanon, where he lingers to dispose of dad’s house and property.
As Will inventories the possessions that are the measure of his dad’s distant life, he thinks about his own — his just-ended romance, his unchallenging job, his untethered urban existence.
The more he thinks of his own life, the less he feels like returning to it. Pulling Will closer to Lebanon are the people he meets. He befriends the single dad (Ian Merrill Peakes) across the street and becomes an adviser to his college-bound daughter (Rachel Kitson). His biggest incentive to stay comes in the form of a pretty (and pretty married) schoolteacher (Samantha Morton), who lets Yuengling beer and Will lead her slightly astray.
The subtle conflict in Lebanon, PA is between the grounded/defined lives of the locals — their connection to the institutions of church, family and marriage — and the rootless Will, who unintentionally destabilizes the people he meets.
The film gets a bit unsteady in the final section. For the most part it’s your classic character-driven movie — the antithesis of an “issue” drama — until a contentious issue surfaces that threatens to overwhelm the story. At every turn, though, Lebanon, PA wisely returns to its subtle, strong performances.
Cast: Mary Beth Hurt, Christopher Mann, James Mount, Dominick Cicco, Tara Copeland, Brea Bee, Samantha Mathis, Natasha Sattler, Josh Hopkins, Julia Yorks.
Director/screenwriter: Ben Hickernell.
Producers: Jason Contino, Ben Hickernell, Charles Smith.
Running time: 100 minutes. Thematic material and some sexual content. Opens May 26 in Miami-Dade only: Cosford.