Thwarted Dreams

Theo Rossi, Michael Harney, and Karen Allen in Mark Kemble’s “Bad Hurt.” | SCREEN MEDIA FILMS

Theo Rossi, Michael Harney, and Karen Allen in Mark Kemble’s “Bad Hurt.” | SCREEN MEDIA FILMS

A sensitive, absorbing drama about a family in crisis, “Bad Hurt” is based on a play by writer/ director Mark Kemble. Set during Christmas week 1999, the film explores the difficult lives of the Kendalls, a Staten Island married couple and their adult children. Elaine (Karen Allen) juggles caring for her developmentally disabled daughter, DeeDee (Iris Gilad), and her PTSD-affected son, Kent (Johnny Whitworth). Her husband Ed (Michael Harney), like Kent a war veteran, is disillusioned by what their lives have become, while their youngest son, Todd (Theo Rossi), is supportive of his parents, pitching in wherever he can.

The family struggles to get by as their dreams are crushed again and again by harsh reality. Todd wants to be a cop but hasn’t been able to pass the academy exam. Kent was a talented baseball player who never had the chance to realize his promise, and after going off to war comes home “sick.” This close-knit family cares for one another and their love comes across, but troubles beset them, ranging from simple misunderstandings to a serious tragedy.

Kemble’s film is obviously very personal to him, and his characters and the house they inhabit seem real, though there are touches of staginess to the enterprise, such as metaphors about the house’s walls having no insulation. And when the Kendalls experience several emotional crescendos on one particularly painful day, the plotting strains. Still, these flaws are forgivable because the film’s messages are so heartfelt.

Mark Kemble offers eloquent study of a family in crisis

“Bad Hurt” emphasizes the love, tolerance, and respect people who are damaged, like Kent, or disabled, like DeeDee, deserve. Elaine plays mama bear as she defends DeeDee’s inappropriate actions at the box factory where she works, explaining that others need to make allowance for her daughter’s occasionally strange behavior. Elaine is able to calm DeeDee down, as is Willy (Calvin Dutton), a disabled man DeeDee says is her boyfriend.

Elaine’s patience is saintly, and when she turns on a radio, closes herself into a closet, and screams in pain and frustration, the movie achieves profound catharsis.

“Bad Hurt” is not relentlessly downbeat. The film features characters suffering — Kent in particular endures considerable pain, both emotional and physical — but by and large, they remain hopeful. Todd tries hard to forge a connection not only with his older brother, but also with Jessie (Ashley Williams), a young woman who has recently moved to Staten Island. Todd is a nice, decent guy, and like Elaine, he deserves a break from his hardscrabble life. To protect Kent, he beats up a drug dealer, but he later buys his brother drugs from the same dealer to help soothe his chronic pain.

These characters have their breaking points, and Kemble seems inclined to showcase all of them. Several choose to confide in Todd, revealing everything from a queer romance to a long-held secret about survivor’s guilt. Todd is surprised by what he learns, but wisely keeps the confidences shared with him. As Ed notes, the pain of others hearing some of this news would be “so bad you don’t feel anything.” Viewers, however, absorb all of the emotional traumas, which feel earned and never manipulative.

The fine cast makes the most of very challenging material. Allen is a standout as Elaine. Watching DeeDee head off to work at the box factory, her expression shifts from happy to depressed in mere seconds, beautifully conveying the brave face Elaine must constantly put on for her daughter. Elaine is never pathetic; Allen makes her sympathetic in her tenacious handling of every crisis. During Elaine’s few brief moments of joy, as when she is dancing, Allen puts across the radiance of this resilient and loving woman. It is a bravura performance that is a reminder of how great an actress Allen is.

The rest of the ensemble cast is uniformly strong. Neither Gilad nor Dutton makes their pivotal characters, holy fools that they may be, cloying — and there is never a hint of overacting. Scenes of DeeDee getting a bath or being calmed down for bedtime show not just the difficulties of caring for a developmentally disabled adult child but also some of its happiness as well. As Ed, Harney underplays nicely and is especially moving in a scene where he cares for Kent.

“Bad Hurt” is equal parts tender and tough, and is a very rewarding film.

BAD HURT | Directed by Mark Kemble | Screen Media Films | Opens Feb. 12 | Cinema Village, 22 E. 12th St. |