'He used to make me laugh," says Annie (Kate Beckinsale) about Glenn (Sam Rockwell), her husband, the father of her little girl, a guy with a history of alcohol abuse, a suicide attempt, and a restraining order to keep him away.

Needless to say, Glenn, who says he's found God, doesn't make Annie laugh anymore. In Snow Angels, a compelling, and grim, portrait of small-town lives gone wrong, not much of anything makes anyone laugh.

Thank goodness for Arthur (Michael Angarano), the high school kid in the band. Sure, his dad (Griffin Dunne) is breaking up with his mom (Jeanetta Arnette), but at least Arthur can crack a smile, and when the new girl (Olivia Thirlby) in class confesses her attraction for him, he grins shyly, says something that sounds foolish and wise, and they kiss.

There's hope.

Or is this happy high school couple supposed to represent Glenn and Annie in their better, younger days? Is everybody doomed in this cold, snow-covered burg in Western Pennsylvania?

Adapted from the Stewart O'Nan novel by writer/director David Gordon Green (George Washington, All the Real Girls), Snow Angels is disturbingly good. The writing and the performances are such that as things go from bad (sad motel-room affairs) to worse (a 4-year-old gone missing), the film's characters get inside your skin, your soul. It's enough to make you want to cry.

Snow Angels ***1/2 (out of four stars)

Directed by David Gordon Green. With Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, Michael Angarano, Olivia Thirlby, Nicky Katt and Amy Sedaris. Distributed by Warner Independent Pictures.

Running time: 1 hour, 46 mins.

Parent's guide: PG (sex, profanity, adult themes)

Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse, Showcase at the Ritz Center/NJEndText

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.