NEW YORK -- Stylistically assured yet thematically muddled, Jason Ruscio's "Laura Smiles" boasts many intriguing elements but eventually is undone by its general air of derivativeness. This time-shifting tale of a beautiful suburban housewife whose ennui leads her to sexual promiscuity and ultimately something far worse feels similar to far too many films that have explored the terrain.
Petra Wright delivers an excellent performance as Laura, who in the film's opening scene is shown as being an aspiring New York actress happily in love with a handsome young writer (Kip Pardue) who is promptly killed in an accident. Cut to nine years later: Laura has abandoned her artistic aspirations and is instead a suburban housewife and mother, married to insurance executive Mark (Mark Derwin).
It soon becomes clear that the union is a joyless and largely sexless one. As the convoluted, time-shifting narrative slowly reveals, Laura is in the midst of an affair with Mark's best friend, single father Paul (Jonathan Silverman, in a highly affecting turn), and also has seduced a good portion of the male population of her community.
Ruscio well captures the visual banality of his suburban milieu and has crafted an intriguingly enigmatic central character whose true nature we are constantly trying to assess. And many individual scenes register with real power, such as Paul's horrified reaction when Laura attempts to inject a threesome with a supermarket checkout boy into what he considered to be their heartfelt love affair.
But the film could have used much more of the sly and subtle humor that only occasionally pops up, and the would-be shocking denouement feels more like ersatz Hitchcock -- or even worse, ersatz De Palma -- than a meaningful resolution to what has preceded it.