Staying after school to meet with teacher David Straithairn, aspiring high-school poet Agnes Bruckner receives some advice that's as valid as it is clichéd: Start with the details and work your way out. She takes that lesson to heart, as does writer-director (and sometime actress) Karen Moncrieff in her feature debut, Blue Car. Moncrieff makes the clinking of keys in the bowl by the door of the tiny apartment Bruckner shares with her troubled younger sister and her frequently absent, recently divorced mother (Margaret Colin) into a keynote signaling the tone their home will assume for the night. Usually, it's not a pleasant sound. Forced to assume the responsibilities of motherhood from within the constraints of daughterhood, Bruckner naturally seeks a channel for her discontent, or goes looking elsewhere for affirmation. She never questions Straithairn's support, and the film never directly implies that she should. He's full of good advice, takes a genuine interest in her talent, and is obviously a nice, sensitive guy. And, in an extraordinary performance, Straithairn plays him as such from start to finish. There's an edge to his scenes with the equally impressive Bruckner, however, that suggests the relationship will reach a crisis, as either his needs or hers push it into unsafe terrain. Blue Car becomes, at least in part, a long wait for the inevitable, but the acting, moody cinematography, and Moncrieff's controlled, uncompromising approach to the material rescues it from predictability. A talented miniaturist reminiscent of Victor Nuñez, Moncrieff has made a film with all the qualities of a good short story, focusing on one truthful moment, the past from which it emerged, and, by suggestion, its impact on the future, all via the slow accumulation of telling details.