I don't normally see films with titles like Come Early Morning unless vampires are involved. However, I was intrigued about the feature directorial debut of Joey Lauren Adams, who also wrote the script, and I liked Ashley Judd so well in Bug that I thought the movie might be worthwhile. Unfortunately, Come Early Morning suffered from an amateurish script, predictable characterizations, and a lack of vampires.
Judd, as the main character Lucy, is playing almost the same exact character as in Bug, but with a little more money and a little less desperation. Lucy lives in a small Arkansas town and has a nasty habit of drinking too much at the local honky-tonk and waking up in hotel rooms with strange men. However, we know right away that she's an independent woman who doesn't want to rely on anyone -- she insists on paying for the hotel rooms herself. The title is probably derived from her habit of getting up before her bedmates in an attempt to sneak out of the hotels before she has to talk to them.
During the course of the film, Lucy starts to realize her life isn't the way she wants it to be. She takes steps to become closer to her dad, takes in a stray dog, and tries to start what might become more than a one-night stand with Cal (Jeffrey Donovan), a new guy in town. She also takes home the local honky-tonk's old jukebox, although she's not sure why, or what she'll do with it. (The old jukebox does provide the film with a fantastic soundtrack, including Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Billy Joe Shaver songs.) She's a contractor, complete with a hard hat, but she doesn't seem to get much satisfaction from the job.
Come Early Morning's plot structure and quality of writing reminded me a lot of the scripts we used to write in film school: Low-concept character studies, usually set in small towns, with a few colorful supporting characters to liven things up a bit. Many were based on our personal experiences. However, our instructors were always chiding us for a lack of subplot, of action, of a storyline that maintained interest. We always thought they were wrong and the movies would turn out wonderful on a big screen with a professional cast and crew involved. Come Early Morning is proof that the instructors were right and we were wrong -- this was Adams' equivalent of a film-school screenplay. I spent a lot of time wondering where the film was going, which characters were important, and why I should bother caring about them.
The weak script is counterbalanced somewhat by some strong acting, particularly from the supporting cast. Sadly, many of the most interesting characters, such as Lucy's Uncle Tim (Tim Blake Nelson) and her boss (Stacey Keach), only appear in one or two scenes. I liked Laura Prepon (best known as the cute redhead in That 70s Show) as Lucy's roommate Kim -- I hope we'll see her in more movies. Another standout was Ray McKinnon as the preacher in Lucy's dad's church; one plus about this film is that it shows religion in a positive, helpful light. Lucy spends time with a number of colorful family relatives, but again, none of these scenes or subplots seem to go anywhere or figure significantly in Lucy's story.
Come Early Morning isn't a bad film, and it does contain some entertaining moments and good performances. Overall, though, the film lacks energy, and the plot has no driving force. At its core, it's a student film, but with better acting, more lavish production values ... and a longer running time.