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May-December romances have become so prevalent in recent Hollywood films that older man-younger woman scenarios have come to be treated as normal. Screenwriter Audrey Wells (The Truth About Cats and Dogs) doesn’t see it that way – and in Guinevere, her smart, funny and surprisingly poignant directorial debut, she dissects one such love affair and discovers at its core the inequitable dynamics of a mentor-protégée relationship.

Harper Sloane (Sarah Polley) hates being looked at and asks the ingratiating photographer shooting her sister’s wedding, Connie Fitzpatrick (Stephen Rea, employing all his hangdog charm), to not take her picture. He leaves her out of the official nuptial photos, but sends along a captivating portrait he shot when she was unaware of his camera. That image captures a yearning Sloane had only begun to articulate, and it sparks an unlikely romance between them.

Fitzpatrick is an old-school San Francisco bohemian, listening to Beat-era jazz, spouting radical politics and debating the ethics of cultural appropriation at a neighborhood bar. He’s the antithesis of the Sloanes, a family of lawyers so immersed in their individual psychodramas that they’re barely cognizant of Harper’s desires.

So instead of attending Harvard Law School, the rebellious 20-year-old moves in with Connie and immerses herself in the idiosyncratic curriculum he’s devised to unleash latent artistic potential.

Guinevere chronicles the damaging dependencies of their relationship, yet also acknowledges what each person has to gain. During a brief but emotionally devastating visit, Harper’s dragon lady mother, Deborah (Jean Smart), succinctly tells Connie that he loves young, naive women because only they would be in awe of someone like him. But Deborah fails to see that her bright but immensely insecure daughter actually blooms under the intense light of Connie’s affection-attention.

Wells stumbles only when she engineers an alumni reunion of the "Cornelius Fitzpatrick School for Young Ladies" (the numerous women Connie has taken under his patronizing wing and gallantly nicknamed Guinevere). The sisterhood they display seems disingenuous, but it fits the philosophy of Guinevere, which sees forgiveness as a gift more precious than love itself.

Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected].

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