Rent it now: sexually confused high school kids grow up

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Emmy Rossum has been knocking around in movies for several years — she was the ingenue opposite Gerard Butler in “Phantom of the Opera” and was lost in the ensemble shuffle of “The Day After Tomorrow” — without making a very strong impression one way or the other.

That’s why it is so sad that the Philadelphia-shot indie, “Dare,” fell through the cracks after it debuted at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. Rossum gives a terrific performance as a high school senior who is determined to become an actress.

Alexa is the most committed actress in her class, but is drawing on almost no life experience.

When a successful stage actor friend of her teacher comes to Philly, Alexa photo_02_hiresgets a wake-up call when the actor tears apart her scene work as Blanche in “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Alan Cumming plays the merciless actor who tells the girl to go out and start taking risks in her own life so that her acting won’t be just an academic exercise.

Alexa decides to see what might happen between her and Johnny (Zach Gilford), the surly fellow student who was pressured into playing Stanley by the teacher.

On the sidelines is Alexa’s best friend, Ben (Ashley Springer), who realizes he is attracted to Johnny as well.

Writer David Brind and director Adam Salky explore this situation with humor and taste (and more than a little eroticism).

Rossum anchors the film with one of the most believable coming-of-age performances in recent movies. She seems to grow up right in front of our eyes. Acting younger than your actual age is very tough and projecting believable “innocence” is even tougher, but Rossum does both things expertly.

The Image Entertainment DVD has above-average extras — including Rossum’s rather amazing screen test and the short film by Brind and Salky that inspired “Dare.” It’s fascinating to watch the way the key scene between Johnny and Ben (below) was played in the short — the unknown Philly actors who did the original film are very good, but Gilford and Springer take the scene to a higher level.

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