Suffering from "issue fatigue"? That would be an understandable response to the fall movie season, in which a flock of serious, issue-driven, adult-oriented dramas clamor for attention. In most cases, the filmmakers are sincere in their desire to convey a message or sound a warning. Too often, however, fictional films collapse under the weight of good intentions. Documentaries have an inherent advantage in that they ostensibly portray a measure of truth, while dramatic treatments are immediately suspect due to their obvious need to create a story arc that will obey the rules of narrative storytelling and provide a degree of entertainment value. It's far too easy to fall into the trap of melodramatic plot devices, Dickensian coincidences and third-act "twists" that surprise no one.
Holly, which opened yesterday in New York before expanding later in the month to other cities, does not entirely avoid conventions. A simple synopsis sounds like a thousand other well-meant movies: shady Patrick (Ron Livingston) agrees to do something for fellow American Freddie (Chris Penn). His motorcycle breaks down and he is stranded at a brothel overnight, where he encounters Holly (Thuy Nguyen), a 12 year old Vietnamese girl who has just been sold into prostitution. His heart goes out to her pathetic situation and he tries to save her. He also crosses paths with a slick, slimy brothel customer (Udo Kier) and an earnest welfare worker (Virginie Ledoyen).
My initial reaction was to recoil at the prospect of yet another movie in which a Noble White American Is The Only One Who Can Save Yellow (or black or brown or whatever) People In Developing Nations From Themselves And In The Process Save Himself. But director Guy Moshe and producer Guy Jacobson, who collaborated on the script, are smarter than that.