Powder Blue is one of the most depressingly bad movies ever made. Every decision -- from the screenplay to the acting to the visual palette -- is a cynical calculation based on an uncomfortable amalgam of several other much better movies. The characters are manipulated ciphers, their stories are emotional copycats, and the film is an ugly, wretched bit of sanctimony. Of course the film purports to be about finding hope in the unlikeliest places, but I found absolutely none, except when the credits started rolling.
The film is a sloppy pastiche of four portraits of depressed souls in dire circumstances. Jessica Biel plays a stripper who leaves sweet phone messages on her comatose young son's hospital room phone. Ick. She is essentially one of those indie-chic characters who talks fast, snorts coke, and talks nonsensical platitudes to herself in a mirror. Ray Liotta is a guy who walks around town in a dirty suit and rides the bus a lot. From what must be intended as a clumsy flashback (hard to tell, since the movie is so stylistically bankrupt), we know that he is dying, so that gives him license to be as morose as possible for the entire movie. Eddie Redmayne is a mortician who can't get a girlfriend so he bonds with dead people. He looks like he's 12 but is intended to be about 30 from the way the film has him act. Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker fills in the final quadrant, playing a character with absolutely no relation to the others, except for that he is depressed and wants to kill himself. Rather, he wants to give someone else $50,000 to shoot him in the heart. Why? Because it's quirky.
These characters are connected in the most artificially forced ways. Biel thinks her father is dead... Liotta never met his long-lost daughter... could they be family? Redmayne finds Biel's lost dog and finally, after bonding with the pooch, calls her to pick him up... could this be destiny? And Whitaker... well, he has no connection to anyone, really. He stumbles through an aimless subplot that needn't be included in this or any other film. His character doesn't want to live, presumably due to grief over his dead wife (Sanaa Lathan, in an inexplicable cameo that wastes a talented actress), but then he briefly flirts with Lisa Kudrow, playing a good-hearted waitress, so maybe his life is changing. But then Kudrow disappears from the movie entirely, and Whitaker goes off to hunt down the tranny hooker who stole his money. Don't ask.
Powder Blue was written and directed by the untalented Timothy Linh Bui. We are taught in film school not merely to borrow from shots and directors we like, but to completely rip them off, so the incessant visual steals from Paul Thomas Anderson and Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu can be easily forgiven. In fact, Linh Bui is such a skilled thief that he could, in some realm, make a successful visual film. His screenwriting, however, is a disingenuous garble that translates to the screen like oil translates to water. Scene after miserable scene desperately tries to connect profoundly with the audience, but each would-be powerful moment plays like a film-school rehearsal for a much better movie. The actors, all of whom have been good or great in the past, are left hanging out to dry at their most vulnerable. Liotta rarely gets to play tender, and in this opportunity is saddled with one of the lamest downer characters of all time. Whitaker is credited as a producer on the film, which probably explains why he felt compelled to fill this role but does not explain why the role exists in the first place. Most grievously insulted is Biel, who fulfills many lecherous fantasies by briefly exposing her breasts in a scene where she writhes on a strip club stage and splashes hot candle wax on her body while crying. This was no doubt intended to be an Oscar-worthy moment of bravery, but instead it's an embarrassing display of directorial exploitation and a waste of acting goodwill.
About 20 minutes into the movie, my wife leaned over to me and whispered, "How many troubled lives are supposed to intersect in this movie?" "Four," I replied. Then she said a line that pretty much sums the entire movie up: "Do they think just because they do the whole multiple stories thing that it's gonna work?"
The "mental patient" costume goes over big at the strip club.