Best known lately for her Emmy-nominated turn as the greedy Veda in Todd Haynes' "Mildred Pierce," Evan Rachel Wood is easily the best thing in each of two very different indie films premiering this month on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video and the like.
In the romantic comedy "A Case of You" (now available), Justin Long plays an exceptionally geeky young man who falls for a bouncy New York barista (a magnetic Wood). In the crime thriller "Charlie Countryman" (available starting Friday), Shia LaBeouf plays an exceptionally geeky young man who falls for a sullen Bucharest cellist (a magnetic Wood).
Hmmm. Maybe these movies aren't so very different after all. They're alike not only in casting young Wood as the male hero's borderline unattainable object of desire, but also in suggesting how relatively few options exist in American movies for intelligent, discerning actors — particularly female actors.
"There are too many movies that are exactly the same," Wood told Interview in 2006. "I mean, people just don't really expect movies to be that good anymore. The majority of them are just prepackaged, like, conveyor-belt movies."
As such product goes, "Charlie Countryman" and "A Case of You" are at least distinguished by the soulful presence of Wood, who, making do with what's available, invests an unusual amount of empathy in each film's infuriatingly meager "girlfriend part."
Very nearly the least of the two, "Case" (co-written by Long) does hit on a convenient shortcut to the filmmakers' apparently daunting work of imagining the girlfriend: Most everything that's revealed about Wood's Birdie Hazel — yes, Birdie Hazel — comes from the woman's Facebook page; stalkerish Sam (Long) studies it intently by way of impersonating a near-total stranger's perfect beau.
Thus the movie itself impersonates a social network-era "Pillow Talk," its barely comic suspense involving what the duped female will do when she figures out what's really going on.
Conveniently, Long and his collaborators hit on a shortcut to the happy ending as well. But Wood's last several scenes are engrossing nonetheless, due entirely to her gift for letting us know there's more to Birdie than her profile.
There's more to Wood than meets the eye, too. Via Google, one learns (non-stalkerishly) that she's a trained dancer and has a black belt in tae kwon do. At age 16, she told a reporter — apropos of Catherine Hardwicke's "Thirteen" (2003), wherein she played a sex- and drugs-loving L.A. kid — that "you have to feel for the parents." Plus she sang a couple of numbers in Julie Taymor's Beatlesque movie "Across the Universe."
As for "Charlie Countryman," the film is not half as interesting to ponder as the dullest Wood tidbit above. Has she thought of writing her own roles?
Also new on VOD
The 2011 miniseries "Mildred Pierce," with a mesmerizing Kate Winslet as the mommie dearest of the title, is available for streaming in high-def on HBO GO, but one needs a subscription to the network's main feed first.
"Across the Universe" can be found for rent on a half-dozen of the leading VOD platforms, as can "Thirteen," a strong dose of medicine that has remained potent after a decade.
"Pillow Talk" (1959) — the first and only great one of the garish rom-coms co-starring Doris Day and Rock Hudson — is widely available, too.
Rob Nelson is a National Society of Film Critics member whose reviews appear regularly in Variety magazine.