Modest but self-assured indie looks much better than its budget and feels less bleak than its synopsis.

PARK CITY -- Dead-end and otherwise stalled lives receive dry sympathy in 'The Off Hours,' a slice-of-downbeat-life that for the most part avoids both manipulative emotion and thecliches invited by its setting. Uncommercial but quite well put together, the small film should earn respect on the fest circuit and could sustain a niche theatrical run.

Seattle-based writer/director Megan Griffiths might not win any awards from the region's tourism board -- even the rock clubs are desultory here. Whatever quirky Bohemia the Pacific Northwest contains might as well be an alternate reality. But Griffiths finds a kind of dulled beauty in the all-night diner through which her characters come and go: Making the most of digital video, she and DP Benjamin Kasulke seem to be shooting through a dingy window, crafting artful compositions that occasionally echo Edward Hopper but would never be mistaken for romantic.

What plot there is revolves around Francine (Amy Seimetz), a waitress who (like her world-weary co-worker Jelena) isn't picky about who she sleeps with, seeming about as emotional about sex as she is about refilling a customer's coffee.

Francine's interest is piqued by a hunky trucker (Ross Partridge), who stops in frequently for late-night coffee breaks. Married with kids, the trucker's ambivalent enough about her attention to give their scenes a much-needed tension. The other main plotline, involving an alcoholic painter hoping to reconnect with his wife and child, is less sturdy, neglected during the movie's first half and predictable in its second, however well acted it is.

The cast (many of whom are welcome faces from recent low-budget indies like Monsters, The Freebie and Baghead) keeps its charisma in check here, with the director allowing only Partridge -- as the outsider with the intriguing backstory and moral baggage -- to shine with a bit of the light Francine imagines must exist somewhere outside city limits. Viewers can guess she'll eventually go off in search of that brighter world, but the time she kills in Griffith's limbo is more watchable than the setting's bleakness might suggest.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, NEXT
Sales agent: George Rush
Production company: The Off Hours Film LLC
Cast: Amy Seimets, Tony Doupe, Ross Partridge, Scoot McNairy, Lynn Shelton, Gergana Mellin, Bret Roberts
Director/screenwriter: Megan Griffiths
Producers: Mischa Jakupcak, Lacey Leavitt, Joy Saez
Executive producers: Garr Godfrey, Ed Kim, Chris Purkiss, Aron Michael Thompson
Director of photography: Benjamin Kasulke
Production designer: Ben Blankenship
Music: Joshua Morrison
Costume designer: Rebecca Luke
Editor: Megan Griffiths
No rating, 93 minutes