Review: “My Own Love Song” takes so many wrong turns it’s almost all right.

Review: “My Own Love Song” takes so many wrong turns it’s almost all right. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.

One of my fondest memories of the Tribeca Film Festival involves the time I went to see “Tennessee,” the road trip drama in which Mariah Carey found her voice, literally and figuratively, and helped two lost souls find their way as well. It was an awful movie, but not in the fun way that the trio of friends sitting next to me had hoped, sneaking in a flask under one of their coats and making all sorts of snide comments about Carey before the film started. Unfortunately, the alcohol was more likely to put them to sleep rather than enhance their enjoyment of the film, which was a total bore.

It saddened me to think those guys probably weren’t at the premiere of “My Own Love Song,” which took essentially the exact same story and threw in scenes of animated flamingos and kingfishers, a batshit Forest Whitaker and Elias Koteas, and Nick Nolte serving up slices of a psychedelic chocolate cake. Sadly, these things overshadow Renee Zellweger’s first genuine performance in years as a wheelchair-bound singer who reluctantly travels down south to New Orleans when her mentally unstable pal (Whitaker) stumbles upon a letter from her son who she gave up for adoption.

The rosy glow that Zellweger once exuded has seemed to return, albeit under a thicket of brown hair and little makeup. It’s one of the rare examples of subtlety on the part of director Olivier Dahan (“Ma Vie En Rose”), who, like Wong Kar-wai and so many other foreign filmmakers, decided to make his English-language debut on a de Tocqueville-esque travelogue.

04232010_ZellwegerMyOwnLoveSong3.jpgIn some sense, it wouldn’t matter where “My Own Love Song” takes place, as Dahan explained during the post-screening Q & A how “it’s not a real realistic movie, it’s more about dreams,” but, like an early scene at the start of the film where Whitaker carries Zellweger into an ice cold lake during a day of fun in the sun, Dahan doesn’t ease us into the water.

We first meet Zellweger’s Jane Wyatt at a bar where she feigns interest in a farm machinery insurance agent who won’t take no for an answer — until she reveals her paralysis from behind a table. The first shot of Whitaker’s Joey has him laying flat in a parking lot as a galaxy of stars turns to asphalt. The pair are bonded by their shared trauma and add a third when a young married woman named Billie (Madeline Zima) shares a bus ride with them and explains how her husband has disappeared.

All three are looking for something, but in setting up tangible goals for each of the characters, Dahan makes a film that’s utterly adrift when it comes to a coherent narrative. For instance, don’t ask for the specifics when the trio is lured into Nolte’s cabin in the woods of Cairo, Mississippi by a guitar riff and then listen patiently as he recounts how Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in Clarksdale to play the blues, complete with a reenactment. Also, it’s best not to wonder why Zellweger is suddenly able to sing a stirring rendition of “This Land is Your Land” after years of refusing such requests (though the moment gives an idea of what she might’ve done had she played Janis Joplin, as was once planned).

04232010_WhitakerMyOwnLoveSong.jpgTo be fair, “My Own Love Song” couldn’t be anywhere near as bad as it is without being as ambitious as it is. The film features original music from Bob Dylan (I counted four of a reported 16 new songs composed specifically for the film), and frequent Spike Lee and Darren Aronofsky cinematographer Matthew Libatique rarely stops using a steadicam — there’s a car chase in the film that is almost breathtaking between its constant movement and Dahan’s use of split-screens, until it gets confusing and ultimately frustrating.

You could also use those adjectives to describe Whitaker’s performance of the schizophrenic Joey; like Nicolas Cage, you can always count on Whitaker’s commitment to character, but you never know when you’re going to get “The Last King of Scotland” or something like this, which borders on parody with all of Joey’s strange tics and a half-baked romance that develops between he and Billie.

After the film’s international premiere at Tribeca, Dahan was warmly received by the minority of the audience that stayed, with those using their questions to praise the director for the dreamlike quality he brought to the film, which is why Zellweger’s Sarah may sum up the film’s appeal best when she asks during her wistful narration, “Should I believe or should I disappear?” The answer may be the former for some, but as the festival walkouts testified, the latter for most.

“My Own Love Song” is currently without U.S. distribution.

[Photos: “My Own Love Song,” Légende Films, 2010]

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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