Making an independent film is such a Herculean enterprise that it should, in theory, appeal only to hugely ambitious sorts. Somehow, though, that isn’t the case, and every year, festivals like Sundance and Tribeca are flooded with ordinary, innocuous, downright minor family dramas. Does the world really need another sensitive tale of a precocious child struggling to make a place for herself while contending with a flighty, irresponsible single parent? No matter how skillfully made, movies like this tend to register as a tiny blip on the cultural landscape; even when they make an impression, it rarely lingers. It’s a whole lot of work for very little return.
Future Weather quickly establishes its humdrum template, introducing 15-year-old Perla Haney-Jardine, who’s obsessed with global warming and conducts experiments in carbon sequestration outside the trailer park she shares with her mom (Marin Ireland). Almost immediately, Ireland abandons the kid to pursue her dream of becoming a “makeup artist to the stars,” forcing Haney-Jardine to move in with her ornery grandmother (Amy Madigan). There’s a tender subplot involving the high-school science club, which is run by Lili Taylor and consists only of Haley-Jardine and an exceedingly shy boy with a painfully obvious crush on her. Madigan, meanwhile, ditches her own boyfriend (William Sadler), who wants to move to Florida, for the kid’s sake. Mostly, though, the film marks time until the moment when Ireland inevitably returns and Haley-Jardine must make a tough decision about which woman is best for her.
First-time writer-director Jenny Deller has assembled a superb cast, with Madigan in particular making the most of her character’s no-nonsense flintiness. Individual scenes, like one in which Haley-Jardine shows up at Taylor’s house and asks to live with her, are often impressive. Apart from a noodly guitar score that sounds like it should be playing in every Park City coffee shop, and some too-emphatic dialogue about the evils of plastic water bottles, there’s almost nothing to criticize. Yet the overall effect is one big shoulder shrug, because there’s nothing in Future Weather that can’t be found in dozens of other indie movies just like it. (1999’s Tumbleweeds remains the standard-bearer for the immature-mom-and-sensible-daughter genre.) And while it’s always nice to see a story about a young woman, they don’t have to be so resolutely low-key. When the protagonist’s biggest issues are a hesitant kiss from the science-club nerd and whether to move to San Diego, nobody’s going to be too invested. And if there’s no chance at all that a film could be at least one person’s all-time favorite, why bother making it?