By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated March 14, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

The same vividness of character that makes novels and short stories such attractive properties for moviemakers is often the undoing of their movies: What we accept in our mind’s eye as believable eccentricity on the page can look distractingly whimsical on screen. Director Rose Troche (”Go Fish”) blends several short stories by contemporary domestic chronicler A.M. Homes into The Safety of Objects, a group portrait of four suburban families whose woes cross paths.

Although the effort is high-minded and fastidious, each household’s longings and itches feel arbitrarily grandiose — and sometimes intrusively kooky — when blown up and in the flesh. But the disciplined performances play against schmaltz, and the casting is inspired: Patricia Clarkson, Dermot Mulroney, Glenn Close, Robert Klein, and the great Mary Kay Place are among the adult neighbors. The cast of kids too is impressive, especially Kristen Stewart, the androgynous-looking daughter from ”Panic Room,” as the androgynous-looking daughter of angry divorced mom Clarkson.