Sunday, November 28, 2010

My Own Love Song *½

Director: Olivier Dahan
Cast: Renée Zellweger, Forest Whitaker
Madeline Zima, Elias Koteas, Nick Nolte

If there's something you can't accuse Olivier Dahan of is subtlety. More than a storyteller he's a pointer, someone who constructs entire universes just to point out a specifically dramatic trait or event in his characters' lives.
Remember how everything in La Vie en Rose for example, was a constant attempt at over dramatizing the already melodramatic life of chanteuse Edith Piaf?
The incoherent editing, the fantastical plot twists, the heightening of emotions through exaggerated visual aids, all with the purpose of exploiting sentiment.
It's not a coincidence that when we first meet Billie (Zima) in this film, she's desperately looking for her wedding band. Minutes later we learn that Billie's husband, like her ring, has disappeared without a trace.
This is the kind of thing Dahan does to point what will become obvious, it's as if he doesn't trust his audience and is constantly trying to tell everything twice.
When My Own Love Song begins we meet former country singer Jane (Zellweger) she's sitting alone in a bar waiting for people she can be mean to apparently.
A stranger approaches her in the way men approach lonely women in bars and Jane proceeds to kick and chew his balls in every way she can. Seconds later, we and the stranger learn that she's in a wheelchair.
Ah, seems to go Dahan's mind, Jane is a bitch because life has been a bitch to her!
After this display of self pity and contempt for humanity Jane wheels herself to her humble house. So far we know she's handicapped, bitter and likes to go to bars. Consequently we will learn she lost her husband in a car accident, had to give up her son to social services and most shocking of all, she has stopped singing! Jane is a Susan Hayward character without the camp.
Jane's best friend is Joey (Whitaker) who can just be described as a magical negro. Period.
He has a stutter, he delivers life changing advice in every line of dialogue and he also talks to angels.
We really can't see why he would even like being around Jane if it wasn't because we know he has a role to fulfill in transforming her hum-drum life. This chance comes in the shape of a trip to Baton Rouge where Joey expects to meet a famous author (who writes about angels) and he also intends to trick Jane into attending her son's first communion (how he finds out this is even occurring is as preposterous as anything you'll see in this film).
They take off towards their own figurative Emerald City where each plans to have their wishes granted. Along the way they meet quirky characters, like the aforementioned Billie and a strange singer (Nolte) who confuses urban legends with myth and has a penchant for magic brownies.
My Own Love Song perhaps would be a better movie if Dahan had concentrated on developing the characters as opposed to finding ways in which to symbolize their every thought in some exciting visual manner. When Jane writes a song about birds we are stuck with a cutesy sequence where the characters walk accompanied by animated birds straight out of a Wes Anderson after school special.
The movie however is mostly a very French take on what an American movie must be like. Get a couple Oscar winners, a soundtrack made out of Bob Dylan songs, squeeze the hell out of quirk and filter all this through the all-American genre by excellence that is the road movie.
It's a pity that the film represents a return to form for Zellweger who has been so intermittent on the big screen this decade. Her Jane might not be extraordinary but the actress does her best with the little she's given, both the actress and the character deserve a much better film.

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