Come Early Morning is the best student film I've seen this year. The camera set-ups are managed well and never draw attention to themselves. The music cues that begin each scene lay it on a little thick, but that's no big deal. The main character is set up quickly and efficiently -- we meet her as she comes storming out of a room at a roadside motel, pushing past a perplexed-looking gentleman standing in the doorway. This cues us that our heroine is the town sperm jar, coming off her latest one-night stand. She will have to be put on a path to mending her slutty ways if the movie is to end on a moderately upbeat note. The small town in which she lives is peopled with appropriately colorful eccentrics, including a church congregation that seems to practice Monkee-worship -- the choir uses tambourines to make a joyful noise and the minister sports a Peter Tork haircut. All of this is good knockabout stuff, but the question arises -- what is Ashley Judd doing in this film?
For a talented actress, Judd has demonstrated great oddity in her choices over the years. She's produced a small library of one-off thrillers like Double Jeopardy and Twisted, often turned up in Southern-fried weepies like Where the Heart Is, and here and there delivered a real knockout performance, such as in 2004's De-Lovely, where she played the long-suffering wife of the insufferable Cole Porter. It's possible that Judd is a victim of Tom Cruise Syndrome -- if you can consistently open a movie, starring roles will be consistently offered to you, which are probably hard to turn down no matter how much you long to unleash the inner thespian. Still, Judd would be well-advised to take on the more challenging projects she's shown herself capable of handling. In Come Early Morning, she's not exactly sleep-walking, but seems perpetually on the verge of boredom. Her character, Lucy, has little to do in the film except pick up strangers in honky tonk bars, sleep with them off-camera, and then regret everything the next day.