Brian Sutherland (background) and Kevin R. James in Maysville (Photos: Indie Rights)

★★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Leslie Goyette
STARS Kevin R. James, Trin Miller

It’s all fun and games until somebody picks up a revolver.

The indie feature Maysville opens in 1929 in an Appalachian community whose members include best buddies Teddy Rogers and Willy Stamper. Boys of about 13, Teddy (Holden Goyette) and Willy (Forrest Campbell) spend most of their time together — it’s a friendship blessed by Clara Rogers (Trin Miller), Teddy’s sweet single mom, and cursed by Buck Stamper (Brian Sutherland), Willy’s abusive single dad.

The kids are fooling around one day when Willy decides to borrow his father’s pistol for target practice. Children and guns are always a bad combination, and we brace ourselves for the scene in which one of the lads accidentally shoots and kills the other. Only this scene never comes. It’s a smart pivot on the part of writer-director Leslie Goyette, moving away from a predictable development, offering a false sense of relief, and then walloping us with a tragedy that’s even messier and more shocking.

The first chapter of Maysville is so strong that it’s a shame the events that truly kick the plot into gear are so outlandish and unbelievable. Willy is the boy who accidentally gets killed, and Teddy is the one who carries the guilt that he contributed to his friend’s demise. The drunken Buck decides that Teddy should replace his own dead son, so he snatches the boy out from under his own mother. She naturally goes to the police, but the sheriff proves so ineffectual that he ignores the obvious and leaves Teddy with Buck. And that’s the end of it. A resigned Teddy spends the next four years being beaten daily by Buck, while Clara gives up on trying to get her son back. Even Ripley’s Believe It or Not! never featured anything so hard to swallow.

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Forrest Campbell and Holden Goyette in Maysville

The storyline rights itself once Teddy, now a boy of 17 (and played at this point by Kevin R. James), finally thinks to escape from Buck and begin a new life in a new town. He heads to nearby Maysville, where in rapid succession he’s deemed a hero after saving the life of an injured boy, becomes the son-I-never-had of kindly local bigwig Clarence Wells (Russell Hodgkinson), and falls in love with the spirited Elizabeth (Cheyenne Barton), the daughter of the suspicious shopkeeper (Frank Lawler). All seems to be going well for Teddy until Buck starts frequenting the town.

As director, Goyette does an excellent job of creating the proper period atmosphere, and she also enjoys a natural facility with the actors, all of whom deliver earnest and unforced performances. It’s in the writing department where she occasionally stumbles, even beyond the inconceivable nature of that aforementioned stretch. The trope of the protagonist frequently believing that he sees his dead buddy in front of him has long outworn its welcome and should be promptly retired by all filmmakers — ditto for the sort of fake-out dream sequences that don’t fool anyone for a moment. And there’s a ninth-inning twist that perhaps wouldn’t have been so obvious had I not recently seen the exact same plot pirouette in the 1982 Matt Dillon melodrama Liar’s Moon (reviewed here); it’s just as shrug-inducing here.

Despite its flaws, Maysville is polished enough that it’s clearly the work of someone who’s helmed a handful of pictures in the past. But hold the phone: This actually marks the debut of Goyette as not only a director but also a writer, a producer, and an editor. Maysville turns out to be a self-assured calling card, and it should rightly put Goyette on the map.

 (Maysville is currently streaming on Amazon Prime, Google Play, Tubi, and YouTube.)

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