Contrary to the brutally negative reception for this film, I found it to be a solid film with a powerful theme and an engrossing main character. I actually thought it was better than the director's earlier effort, "Lymelife" (2008.) Rory Culkin gave it his best shot, but the Suburban family dysfunction motif is so 'done,' and y'know, Emma Roberts plays the same damned character in every freaking movie she's in.
The often-overlooked Culkin brother is in this too in a small part, but Chloe Grace Moretz runs the show as Luli, a sexually provocative yet heartbreakingly vulnerable 13-year-old and the product of drunk loser parents (Anson Mount and Juliette Lewis) living in small town, Nebraska. Disenchanted with her going-nowhere life, Luli hitches a ride from a limping young man (Eddie Redmayne,) a decision which turns out to be the most dire of her life.
Chloe Grace Moretz is a good little actress, although she still has a lot of room to improve, and seeing her flounce around in her underwear and act sexually precocious might bother a lot of people. But it's important to remember that Moretz is not a little girl anymore, and is gradually working her way into more mature roles (maybe a little faster than we would like.)
Luli is a dynamic character. Early on, as she points her revolver in the mirror and quotes lines from famous films, we see a girl who has been hurt to many times, and needs a lifeline of any kind to stay afloat. Later, when she asks her mother's boyfriend if she's pretty, our heart aches for her- we want to be there for this lonely, desperate girl, yet can only watch her fumble and fight with the challenges of an unusual adolescence through the screen.
Unfortunately, the other characters are singularly nasty and unlikable, almost unbearably at times. Most of them seem to exist primarily to abuse, let down, and exploit Luli, to the exclusion of anything else. Redmayne gives a good performance as Eddie, the boy who picks Luli up, but by the end it is impossible to feel any sympathy for him.
Just because we are traveling from one little hick town to another, does that mean the men can't show a little chivalry towards a struggling teenage girl? It is disturbing, but also ludicrous, how each odd character Luli meets seems to be indescribably broken and mean spirited. That said, I never got bored during this movie, and was fascinated by Moretz's little traveler.
I've liked Moretz since "Kick-Ass," and she shows maturity and screen presence as the lead character. Watch this for her and Redmayne, if for no one else. While Redmayne is appropriately vile, the film finds an unlikely heroine in Luli, sometimes sour, sometimes sweet, but always compelling.