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'Romulus, My Father'

In the opening scene of Richard Roxburgh's pretty but ponderous melodrama, a handful of seemingly dead bees comes back to life, warmed in the hand of a loving father. Romulus is an Eastern European immigrant in Australia, struggling to keep a farm going and anxious that his adolescent son Raimond have a shot at happiness.

When we meet them and those bees come to life, everything seems fine, although Raimond clearly misses his mom. Turns out he's better off without her: Christina (Run Lola Run star Franka Potente) suffers from bipolar disorder, something Raimond's father (Eric Bana) finds nearly as hard to accept as Raimond does.

The family is barely scraping by, even without the problems of mom's latest pregnancy (by the brother of dad's best friend), and when Romulus starts to go off the rails, too ... well, suffice it to say that the boy must look inward, and that that's not enough.

Tough and sentimental simultaneously, the film boasts fine performances, but its story proves so downbeat and attenuated that it's hard to stay engaged.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.