The first thing you notice about Lebanon, Pa. is how freaking gorgeous it is. There was a time when you came to a festival like SXSW expecting its indie world premiere slate to largely feature movies that look like they were shot through a screen door. Ben Hickernell's second feature, "filmed" on a $15,000 Red One camera in Philadelphia and surrounding communities, looks as good as any moderately budgeted studio feature, and better than most. The fact that filmmaking has become so cheap anyone can do it is repeated so often that it's become a truism, but I'm not sure any movie has illustrated it as starkly as this one. The effect is amplified by the fact that I saw Hickernell's debut, Cellar, five years ago at the now-defunct Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema. It did not look like this.
Not that Ben Hickernell is "anyone." Lebanon, Pa. is problematic, but it does a lot of things right, and winds up being one of the more engaging films at this year's festival. An urban-rural culture clash drama, it begins with the death of the protagonist's father, who moved from Philly to the titular rural community after leaving his wife and son when the latter was a young boy. The son, who is named Will and is now a hunky big-city ad man played by TV vet Josh Hopkins, has to travel to Lebanon to sell dad's house and otherwise get his affairs in order.