The Favor

In the spirit of “Broken Flowers” comes “The Favor,” a quiet, methodical drama with no wasted scenes or dialogue, a film that moves as calmly and rationally as its main character.

It’s not about a man searching for a long-lost son (like “Broken Flowers”), but a man taking a foster son even though he knows nothing about parenthood in general or the boy specifically. That way often lies wackiness, but “The Favor” is a serious movie, albeit a sweet one, about emotional uncertainty and unexpected relationships.

The first feature by writer/director Eva S. Aridjis, it is set in Bayonne, N.J., where a balding bachelor in his mid-40s named Lawrence (Frank Wood) lives alone with his beloved dog and his single-serving dinners. He has a part-time clerical job at the police station, where his love for photography is employed in the mug-shot room, but he makes most of his humble living as a pet photographer.

Through a series of events I think you should wait and be surprised about, Lawrence comes to be the guardian of a troubled 16-year-old boy named Johnny (Ryan Donowho), a would-be bass player and champion pot-smoker whose stringy hair hides his forlorn, petulant face. Johnny isn’t accustomed to obeying rules, and Lawrence isn’t used to giving them — you get the sense he’s never been around children at all, not even nieces or nephews — and thus a conflict is born.

This is not a movie of arguments and accusations, though, at least not for the most part. Lawrence is too even-keeled for that, all mild manners and kindly stated logic, the sort of person it’s impossible to fight with. What Aridjis does very nicely is show how this is exactly the kind of person Johnny needs, in stark contrast to, say, the school counselor who ridiculously tries to “reach” Johnny the way clueless adults often do.

On the minus side, there’s a scene late in the film where Johnny searches for his estranged father, where the attitudes of the characters involved seem to change too abruptly. Also, the inevitable scene in which Lawrence finally loses his temper and yells at Johnny feels oddly muted. I realized it’s because no matter how angry the actor gets, his eyes never change from their soft default setting. Is that a choice, to show that Lawrence isn’t capable of true rage? Or is it a weakness in the actor’s performance? I think it’s the latter.

Frank Wood, the actor in question, is otherwise a strong lead, with a soothing baritone voice and an eagerness to please that instantly endear Lawrence to the viewer. Ryan Donowho, a Johnny Depp-looking young actor who has mastered the Brooding Teen thing but has yet to break into the big-time, walks the line between being whiny and being sympathetic, but I should point out that many real-life teens do that, too.

The overall effect is a positive one for me. It’s an emotionally satisfying film, even a cathartic one, that deserves an audience.

B (1 hr., 50 min.; Not Rated, probably R for some harsh profanity.)