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A family drama bout troubled Iowa farmer fails to grow properly

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In a departure from his earlier, lightly plotted, micro-budget New York City-centric indies like Chop Shop and Man Push Cart, director Ramin Bahrani offers this family melodrama, set in rural Iowa, starring big Hollywood names. Dennis Quaid portrays a struggling corn famer battling big ag and his layabout son (Zac Efron), who would rather drive stock cars than work the farm. Quaid gives a great performance as the glad-handing but not-very-nice farmer, who doubles as seed salesman.

There are some trenchant bits about the tough new economic landscape, where family farming is a dying myth and the American Dream has scrambled into the realm of fantasy. (The son dreams of a NASCAR shortcut.) But as the story comes to a head over twin conflicts of seeds and sons, the plot shifts into predictable crises, which would be more at home in a TV movie than in a thoughtful study of real-life tough choices. The overall subject matter is worthy — the collapsing middle class rarely get its due, even on film — but the execution is unnecessarily juiced up.

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