Thursday, Nov 4 2010

JOLENE There's a reason E.L. Doctorow's "Jolene: A Life" finally made it to the big screen: With its episodic-odyssey narrative, the short story affords a filmmaker the opportunity to make many different movies at once. In Dan Ireland's trivial adaptation, teen orphan Jolene (Jessica Chastain) embarks on a cross-country quest for love and happiness, during which she assumes a variety of clichéd roles: rural ingénue, loony-bin lesbian, roadside prostitute, wild child, stripper, gangster's moll, career woman, abused high-society wife. Coming across like a child playing dress-up, spunky Jolene accepts the affections of everyone she meets, never grasping that her own passivity is the root cause of her travails. Incapable of assessing a person, situation or the consequences of her actions, Jolene shacks up with her half-wit first husband's uncle (Dermot Mulroney), a drug-dealing tattoo artist (Rupert Friend), a Vegas mobster (Chazz Palminteri) and a trust-fund lunatic (Michael Vartan), all of them such obviously horrible paramours that Jolene's trail-of-tears plight engenders contempt. Voiceover narration and broad supporting turns (especially from Theresa Russell and Denise Richards) only compound the clumsiness. Throughout, Chastain delivers a full-bodied debut performance, but she's ultimately stuck taking her wandering-soul protagonist far more seriously than the character — or the film — deserves. (Nick Schager) (Sunset 5, Playhouse)

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