“For Ellen”

FRIDAY NIGHT MOVIE REVIEW: “For Ellen” stars Paul Dano (Swiss Army Man, Little Miss Sunshine), Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite, Blades of Glory), Margarita Levieva (The Lincoln Lawyer, Adventureland), Julian Gamble (House of Cards [TV series], First Born), Dakota Johnson (Bad Times at the El Royale, The Peanut Butter Falcon), Jena Malone (Nocturnal Animals, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice), and Shaylena Mandigo (Eva [Short]). It is written and directed by So Yong Kim (Treeless Mountain, In Between Days). Joby Taylor (Dano), a failed rock musician who gave up everything to pursue his dream, finds himself in a tough spot when he is asked to surrender all rights to his six-year-old daughter Ellen (Mandigo) in a divorce settlement.

Can’t go wrong with a good ol’ divorce settlement story. Battles are lost, love is tested, and characters are redeemed. In the case of “For Ellen,” we pay witness to a somewhat transformation of a pathetic rocker, played by the always entertaining Paul Dano. The actor drew me to this film, as he is fairly bankable when it comes to the movies he takes part in. I was introduced to him in “Little Miss Sunshine” and was astounded by him the the wild “Swiss Army Man.” I’ve been interested in studying more of his work, so when I saw his face purusing a film library I thought I’d act on the opportunity. “For Ellen” is really a “what you see is what you get” kind of experience. Its story is a familiar one and its outcome is fairly predictable. There aren’t any twists or turns, instead opting to guide you on a journey of a man learning what true responsibility is, and the joy he has given up in pursuit of an unreachable dream. It begins, develops, and concludes, providing a rather raw experience that takes its time. We’ve seen features like this before, however “For Ellen” really focuses on showing and not telling, and what they show doesn’t amount to much most of the time. Dano is solid in this, often being the only light to this fading film. His character is alright, but I think what hinders his performance the most is how long he is expected to carry on a scene with very little to do or say. There are times where Joby is just laying or sitting and we hold on him for what seems to be an eternity. What’s going through his head? Who knows. I’m typically for this style of film, but it has to come with motivation within the scene. Joby is going through a rough divorce, but when all I am seeing is him slump around for ten or so minutes, I get antsy. Could be my attention span, but I’d put money on the composition of the story. There is one moment where we watch a fly crawl up Joby’s face and into his ear for a few minutes; it’s a terrifying scene in its simplicity, but what does it amount to? You can pull a metaphor from somewhere, but the fact remains that this movie loves to revel in its own limbo. Yong Kim approaches her story in a realistic fashion, with her shots almost always being handheld and up close. The cinematography is fine, with some good shots sprinkeled throughout the picture, but it is more serviceable than genius. I think what bugged me the most about it was how often it went out of focus. I assume this was to further the realistic element, but it tended to get nauseating. Some shots could’ve easily racked focus since the characters didn’t move to great lenghts, but instead the filmmakers chose to rack a few seconds after they moved out of focus. This could be a creative choice, or the director didn’t want to block her actors; either way, it was a tad irritating. For me, the best (and only redeeming) part of this movie are the scenes shared between Joby and Ellen, who he has never talked to the entire time she’s been alive. Their shared moment was strained and awkward, leaving for a genuine experience that I was invested in. It’s really the meat of the story that you want to get to, with everything else being laid to meander. The girl who played Ellen was surprisingly good, and her final scene with Joby was very real. In the end, “For Ellen” is a feature that lets out a long sigh. You have to have patience to see it unfold, which I typically have for movies that have a guiding motivation or theme. While the flick does have a character arc, it just doesn’t do enough to hold my interest, save for a few scenes. The fact that we have scene this kind of story before (and its outcome) doesn’t help the movie either. I don’t regret seeing it, but I won’t recommend it either. FINAL SCORE: 61%= Burnt Popcorn

Here is the trailer:

One response to ““For Ellen”

  1. Pingback: November Movie Rankings | Juicy Reviews·

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