Untitled Document Steal Me would have been the perfect photo album. Filled with beautiful compositions of the equally beautiful Montana countryside and utterly devoid of coherence to string them together, Melissa Painter’s coming-of-age love opus should be leather-bound, not celluloid-framed.

The story is simple. Fifteen-year-old traveling tramp Jake (Danny Alexander) comes to Montana in search of his long-lost prostitute mother who may or may not still live in the sleepy rural town. A kleptomaniac to the core, he is caught stealing a car stereo from local teen Tucker (Hunter Parrish). After a brief fistfight, the boys become fast friends as Tucker’s family takes pity on Jake, giving him a bed and temporary respite from his wandering ways. Soon, however, things come apart as Jake cannot stop himself from stealing, both the small knickknacks from town and the heart of Tucker’s longtime crush, Lily Rose (Pas de la Huerta).

Painter has certainly succeeded in establishing a glimpse of teenage angst through the pains of sexual awakening that exists far from the average Hollywood fare. Jake is attracted to his foster mother Sarah (Cara Seymour, in an utterly somnambulic turn), single-mother neighbor Grace (Toby Poser) and Lily Rose, all the while soliloquizing about the intense rush of breaking and entering. Yet for all of their wanton edginess, these alternative choices amount to very little. Painter never comes close to making any point about the wayward teenager, alternative friendships, or hormone-fueled romance in the modern world, and her utterly mystifying ending undercuts everything the film seemed to stand for.

Cinematographer Paul Ryan, whose second-unit credits include the similarly excellent, Montana-based photography of A River Runs Through It and The Horse Whisperer, paints an effortlessly magnetic landscape where the plight of man seems insignificant compared to the vastness of the world. Sadly, when combined with Painter’s un-engaging screenplay and tactless editing by Melissa Bretherton, this purely scenic tale of Jake and Tucker cannot fill the frame or the scant 95-minute running time that labors ceaselessly.

Hollywood can undoubtedly benefit from the unique viewpoints of independent filmmakers, especially on the tricky subjects of teenage torment and impatient love. Independent filmmaking can undoubtedly benefit from the audacity and vision of Melissa Painter. Audiences, however, can undoubtedly benefit from a quiet night at home, safely away from Steal Me.

Grade: C-

—Joe Horton

Steal Me opens at Laemmle’s Sunset 5 Sept. 23.