First thing you need to know about Tennessee, a road movie about two brothers and their eventful journey from New Mexico to Nashville, is that it's produced by Lee Daniels (Monster's Ball, The Woodsman, Shadowboxer).

Like those films, Tennessee is drenched in melancholy, a trip through a tunnel of pain illuminated by a lone ray of light at the end.

Director Aaron Woodley is attentive to how that light warms the golden buttes of New Mexico and glistens on the emerald hills of Tennessee. He is, likewise, mindful of his performers - Adam Rothenberg as Carter, elder brother and surrogate father to Ellis, played by Ethan Peck.

In a Route 66 diner, Ellis meets Krystal (Mariah Carey), a downcast waitress, who instantly feels protective of the young man. Both of them share a similar family secret. Soon Krystal, an aspiring singer, is driving the siblings to Nashville, her state trooper husband in hot pursuit.

Though Tennessee feels more like a demo reel than a movie, the simplicity of Peck's performance and the naked pain of Rothenberg's are quite affecting.

Something was so familiar about the timbre of Peck's voice that I looked him up: Yes, his grandfather was the late Gregory Peck, and among the younger Peck's genetic blessings is Grandpa's resonant bass. On the subject of screen genes: Director Woodley is the nephew of filmmaker David Cronenberg.