Kyra Sedgwick, who looks like a tragedy mask even when she smiles, has the kind of sensuality that has gone out of fashion in the movies (though not, apparently, on television, where she has finally found success). Her been-around-the-block sexiness is laced with neurotic anger; those beautifully squinty, crying-jag features turn desire into pain, and vice versa. Loverboy, which Sedgwick's husband, Kevin Bacon, directed, gives her a showcase role as Emily, an aspiring single mother of terrifying obsessive zeal who raises an eager, trusting, shaggy-haired 6-year-old named Paul (Dominic Scott Kay), whom she nicknames ''Loverboy,'' believing he's hers in every way: her child, her partner, her other self. There's no room in the world for anyone but them.
As long as they're painting happy purple handprints on the wall, you give her behavior a pass. But any doubts as to whether this ''unconventional'' mother is mildly nuts are laid to rest the moment that she confronts one of her rivals for the kid's affection a baby bird by smashing it with a rock. Loverboy, adapted from a novel by Victoria Redel, portrays a parental fixation so suffocating that it's a borderline form of child abuse, yet perhaps the only way to make a movie like this one work is to invite us inside the mania the way Bill Forsyth did in Housekeeping (1987), where he highlighted the cracked compassion, as well as the dysfunctional flakiness, of his hippie-before-her-time heroine.
Bacon, in his first outing as a feature director, displays no such subtlety. As an actor, he has often had a funny, percussive edge, and he instinctively pushes Loverboy toward surreal domestic satire. It's fascinating to watch Sedgwick try to make Emily into a luminous wack job, but the punched-up staging (neighbors doing arch double takes at her shenanigans, etc.) trivializes the character, as do the stylized flashbacks in which Bacon, in Hunter S. Thompson regalia, and Marisa Tomei play Emily's own neglectful parents as wigged-out '70s cartoons. Meanwhile, young Paul emerges as a lonely yet magically stable boy. I never really bought Loverboy, and unconvincing delusional cruelty is not what you would call a memorable night out.