For Ellen Movie Review
Cast & Crew
Director : So Yong Kim
Producer : Jen Gatien, Bradley Rust Gray, So Yong Kim,
Screenwriter : So Yong Kim
One of those mopey independent dramas that drifts through a mere hint of a plot, this film is worth a look for its unusual setting and a superb central performance from Paul Dano (last seen in Looper). Filmmaker Kim focusses so closely on him that everything else on screen kind of fades into the background, turning the movie into a deeply personal odyssey. Although there isn't much more to it than that.
Dano plays an aimless rocker named Joby, who travels to a snowy town to settle his divorce from Claire (Levieva). She's so angry with him that she won't even see him for the sake of their young daughter Ellen (Mandigo), preferring to talk through lawyers. And since she knows Joby is deeply in debt, she makes a cruel offer: he can have half the value of their marital home if he signs over sole custody of Ellen, whom he barely knows anyway. But this isn't an easy decision, and Joby can only get so much help from his inexperienced lawyer (Heder). As part of the negotiations, Joby gets to spend two hours with his daughter. And then he has to make up his mind.
Dano is superb as the hapless Joby, who finds it so difficult to concentrate on his life that he's about to be thrown out of his own band. As a result, his life seems to be one mess after another, leading to this key moment when he needs to snap to attention. So it's especially intriguing that we can feel the internal pull toward his daughter: he wants to be a good dad, but is terrified of doing something wrong. And the film finds a lively counterpoint in Heder's comically clueless lawyer, another grown man who is painfully ill-equipped to face the real world.
All of this is expressed with very little dialog, which is particularly impressive except that it allows writer-director Kim to avoid establishing any real narrative structure. The film feels as meandering as Joby, which makes it vague and elusive. We never have a clue why Joby finds it so impossible to wake up and take responsibility for something this important. Because of Dano's transparent performance, we can see that he's trying, but his resolute inaction is rather maddening to watch. As a result, the film feels like it never quite breaks through the surface. We may see into Joby's soul, but it never comes into focus.
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