screen-shot-2013-04-24-at-11.52.56 AMIn Lieu of Flowers is on the festival circuit, having its world premiere at the Newport Beach Film Festival April 28.

Flowers is a gentle but refreshing dramedy set in New York that deals with the struggle of losing someone you love. Although there are themes of grieving and loss, it avoids being heavy handed and retains a lightness and sense of humor.

It is the beginning of spring, and the young central characters are looking for a fresh start. Josh Pence (The Dark Knight Rises, Gangster Squad) plays Eric, who recently experienced lost love. Spencer Grammer (As the World Turns, Greek) plays grade school teacher Rachel. Although her husband died two years ago, Rachel still wears her wedding ring. The two meet at a support group that focuses on dealing with death of a family member/loved one.

While Eric and Rachel have different circumstances, both are trying to heal their heartbreak. We see them struggling in coming to grips with their situations and adjusting to everyday life. Eric has re-occurring dreams about his old girlfriend and lashes out at his buddies; while Rachel has isolated herself, ignoring friends’ invitations and phone calls.

However, when they cross paths outside the support group, they are compelled to open up to each other. Soon enough, sparks start to kindle between them. Although there are some places where the film feels like your usual boy-meets-girl tale, it does take a fresh approach to the romance genre.  It is not so much a steamy affair as it is simply about two people connecting after going through hurt and heartbreak. The movie looks at the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel; and how human bonds can provide hope and help in the healing process.

The attractive actors work well off each other with a natural chemistry (even with the awkward moments that come when you are first getting to know each another) and are ones to watch for the future. Since the movie contains several reflective moments, they are required to convey raw emotions without words — and do so successfully.

The supporting players are terrific actors; it is disappointing that their characters were not developed beyond the archetypical “friend” role. There is also a lack of interaction between them and the leads, so they are ultimately left with little to do. Nate Corddry (Harry’s Law, The United States of Tara) has a natural charisma. Melissa Rauch (True Blood, The Office) is more toned down here than in her cutesy role as Bernadette in The Big Bang Theory, but still awfully adorable.

Written and directed by William Savage (In Lieu of Flowers is his feature film debut), the story is inspired by personal experiences, although he is coy to say just how much. Although the events are dramatized for the film, his personal heartbreak was the catalyst for wanting to explore the over-encompassing feelings that go along with both falling into love and losing love. Perhaps it is this personal touch behind the film that does make it relatable  and emotionally resonant for anyone struggling to let go of the past and explore other possibilities.

If you are in the Orange County area (or if it appears at your local festival), In Lieu of Flowers is a sweet film worth checking out. The Newport Beach Film Festival will have another screening on Thursday, May 2nd, 2013.