Bright Leaves is mess. Filmmaker Ross McElwee returns home to North Carolina and begins to investigate his family's past involvement in the tobacco industry. As the film progresses, we find out that the McElwees were run out of the tobacco business by the evil Duke family and that Hollywood later made a movie, "Bright Leaf" about the family's battle with the Dukes.
The biggest problem with this film is that McElwee doesn't grasp the fact that a film should tell a story. He reports on:
- the tobacco industry,
- his relationship with his son,
- his feelings about the South,
- his family's trips to the beach,
- the film "Bright Leaf,"
- the Duke family, and
- many, many other topics.
Any of these threads might have made for an interesting film. As it stands, however, McElwee briefly comments on each of them before moving on to another topic. Bright Leaves has no center; it is like watching a series of vignettes on different topics.
While some of the material is interesting, much of it is a bore. One of the worst moments is an excruciating, bizarre scene in which McElwee interviews a visiting film scholar. The scene goes on forever and I cannot convey the level of boredom the viewer endures while listening to these two discuss the "kinesthetic" qualities of film.
After the movie, my wife commented that it was like watching a movie by a film student who has yet to learn much. That's a good summary. Do yourself a favor and skip McElwee's self-indulgent, pointless film.