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STUDIO Entertainment One
RUNNING TIME 120 Minutes
• Interviews (Dan Ireland and Jessica Chastain, Theresa Russell, Dermot Mulroney, Michael Vartan)
• Audio Commentary with Director Dan Ireland
Directed by Dan Ireland and based on a story by E.L. Doctorow, Jolene follows the provocative tail of a beautiful, redheaded Southern girl on a ten-year journey across America. From age fifteen to twenty-five, Jolene overcomes a myriad of adversity as she navigates her way through bad foster homes and a failed teenage marriage, escapes from a mental institution, and hits the road in search of love, adventure and independence.
Dan Ireland (Director), Jessica Chastain, Chazz Palminteri, Dermot Mulroney, Rupert Friend, Zeb Newman, Denise Richards, Theresa Russell, Michael Vartan
Jessica Chastain in her amazing introductory film performance. She bares all physically and mentally as a good spirited, sexually charged girl who matures through a series of bad choices and worse people. Even with a great cast and a stellar performance, Chastain is the only thing special here.
I took a screenwriting class at film school that began with saying that typically everyone thinks their life is interesting, but most other people don’t feel it’s all that special. That’s kind of the way I felt at the end of Jolene. The progression the character takes is more normal than it tries to be, unfortunately. Sure, not everyone gets married and then widowed at 15, lives without financial boundaries in Vegas and gets kicked out of an extremely religious family. There are too many girls that get molested by people they know, let this develop into self-reflecting blame and instead of rising above the issue they get swallowed by it and become the by-product of some horribly sick monsters.
The title character reflects a typical case study of teenage psychology. She has been abused and settles in with a “safe” guy, a nerd that truly loves her, but is just as emotionally scarred as she is. She marries him, despite a parental figure that doesn’t approve and another creepy older stalker that acts as the other parental figure. Lust replaces love and after she is labeled the homewrecker she is placed in a mental institution.
That is the first of 5 different personas that Chastain plays, all displaying the lost little girl wanting an innocent romance while maturing into a magnetic vixen and attracting every type of sexual predator. We witness a lesbian prison guard, a drug dealer, a mafia boss, and anally obsessed religious deviant. The character goes from broken teen to a mature and self-aware woman with an understanding of her past and where it has led her.
I knew going into this that this was the premier film role for Chastain. Last year she had buzz for not one but two films for best supporting actress and a total of four critically acclaimed films. I liked her best in The Debt, she got nominated for The Help and also starred in The Tree of Life and Take Shelter. She literally exploded all expectations in what was seemingly her first major year in Hollywood. What I didn’t know is this raw character, with such a depressing but endearing arc displayed the best acting she has done in possibly the worst film I have seen her in.
Every character she gets romantically involved with in the film is one dimensional. The sad part about that is the quality of actors that were restricted to the various stereotypes they represented. Couldn’t we get Frances Fisher to play the drug dealing tattoo artist who happens to be a lesbian instead of the child molesting lesbian prison guard? Couldn’t the long haired guitar playing Rupert Friend be the religiously obsessed son of a wealthy family and Michael Vartan be the connected guy in Vegas? For that matter I would have loved to have seen Chazz Palminteri as a child molesting prison guard. I’m sorry, every sterotype they could use they did (but they didn’t have the ginger loving black guy. In hindsight, I’m shocked. They must have run out of time, or we could have heard stories about how much better endowed he was as he smoked weed and hijacked cars).
Where I am going with this is the movie is not that good. It’s an after school special telling girls everywhere not to spread their legs as anyone who lies about loving them is evil. They throw in a lot of Chastain nudity to give some reward to watching the film and then proceed to get caught between offensive and boring as hell.
Chastain is the perfect chameleon though, making me almost think of the film as spanning ten years of her actual life. Everything in the first part of the film conveys a 15 year old unsure of her body with slouched shoulders, a mousy voice, lack of eye contact with those in charge and a timidness that exudes abused youth. The fourth segment has her in vegas, and she is not only very confident about her body, but she looks almost 10 years older, with a change of expression, body language, hair style and voice inflection. Rarely do actors get this type of meaty role, that spans 10 years in five different situations all maintaining the base character while changing the imaginary armor they wear to protect their heart.
Chastain not only adapts as the time frame changes but she goes head to head with quite a few respect worthy actors. Chazz Palminteri has proven himself to be able to steal attention from the likes of De Niro and SPacey, but never once is he able to hold a torch to Chastain. Fisher never let Eastwood force her into the back seat like she is here, and Dermot Mulroney who excels at the douchebag lover role(see Lovely & Amazing with Emilie Mortimer) is forgotten the second his segment ends where Chastain’s performance will stick with you for days.
I will say see this only for Chastain, if you want to see an excellent performance. Even so, it may not be worth the 2 hours of your time, so at least fast forward and make sure you catch her at every point of her character’s maturity.
The biggest special feature on the disc are the interviews, and particularly the one with Chastain and Ireland. He details her audition process and then she goes on to explain her over the top character definition she did in the week between hearing she got the part and meeting the director for the first time. I really liked Chastain before this, but I am a full-fledged fan looking for all of her work and giving her respect I normally reserve for those with a lot more experience. She is now on my top ten list of the best actresses currently working.
There is a commentary by the solo director and a trailer. They also include a somewhat dry blooper reel consisting of Chastain breaking character and laughing some of the time. The biggest amount of the bloopers involve Michael Vartan though, and as I normally didn’t think of him as much more than a Drew Barrymore rom com one note actor, I actually think this is the role I enjoyed him most in and he and Chastain shared better chemistry behind the scenes than the lovers in film footage showed.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars