The story may smack of teenybopper drama a la Pretty in Pink, but there is nothing John Hughes about writer/director Enid Zentelis’ feature debut, Evergreen.

Set in the outskirts of a Pacific Northwest town, Evergreen is about envy. A dirt-poor teenager, Henri, who starts to date one of the filthy rich kids, Chat, hides the fact that she lives with her mother and grandmother in a waterlogged shack. She fumbles, trying to blend into Chat’s seemingly idyllic world.

But Henri is blinded by jealousy and self-pity. When she takes the blinders off, she learns that the rich can be dysfunctional too, and in many ways she is better off than Chat.

Before you cue the Pretty in Pink theme song, hang on: There is no Molly Ringwald melodrama here. Zentelis’ characters are honest, not caricatures of poor people, rich people, or teens.

Newcomer Addie Land deserves accolades for her portrayal of Henri. She captures adolescent emotional anguish without bratty, whiny histrionics. Land makes us feel for naive Henri, even when she behaves badly — stealing money from her mother’s boyfriend and forcing her mom to pretend she doesn’t know her in front of Chat’s family.

On the other hand, Chat is a self-absorbed, emotionally unavailable kid who makes no attempt to understand Henri. He’s not acting out of malice; he’s basically just trying to get in her pants.

Evergreen is not without laughs, but even the humor here is drenched in heartbreak. For instance, Henri’s Latvian mother, Kate, retaliates against suggestions that her family is trashy by shouting, “We’re European!”

In another scene, a turned-on Chat tries to convince Henri during a make-out session that if they don’t have sex, he’ll get sick from a blue toxin that would build up in his groin.

It’s so ridiculous, but you just pray that Henri doesn’t buy it.

That concern for the characters is a sign that Zentelis succeeded in making a compelling film instead of an adolescent trifle.

Showing at AMC Livonia, 19500 Haggerty Road, Livonia, 734-542-9909; and AMC Forum, 44681 Mound Road, Sterling Heights, 586-254-5663.

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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