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Customer Review

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delicate but solidly real, 20 Jun. 2013
This review is from: For Ellen [DVD] [2013] (DVD)
I'm going to try to expand on my gut reaction of `I love it I love it I love it' just a little. So, an aspiring rock musician is conflicted when he discovers that in order to get half the money of the house he owns with his (to be) ex-wife, he has to give up his legal rights as a father to the child he barely knows. The basic premise sounds like it could produce a very maudlin, sentimental film in the wrong hands. Luckily, the script didn't land in the wrong hands, and therefore what you get is this very honest portrayal of a very human character forced to confront himself.

I say `himself' rather than the situation because I feel like the situation is the culmination of all the lifestyle choices he's ever made. It comes from his lack of responsibility, insensitivity, egotism and selfishness, flaws we see played out in various scenes--I think my favourite being the angry one-sided phone call he has with a bandmate. Of course the decision he has to make, which is time restricted, forces other, perhaps forgotten, buried or dormant parts of his personality to emerge--his vulnerability, his insecurity, the bond he actually does begin to make with his kid. It works so well because the approach of the film is not to judge the character, not to fall down on either the side of sympathy or condemnation, but to present the audience with an unbiased, unfiltered, unedited, entirely realistic view of him. This is achieved by the camera basically following him everywhere; there is barely a frame that Paul Dano isn't in, and my God, his performance is wonderful. `Aspiring musician' might be a cliché, but Dano avoids it and fills his performance with honesty and subtlety. There are occasions when his character is extremely nasty, and there's no sense that Dano or the filmmakers hold back in showing us that side of him in order to gain sympathy. I don't even think feeling sympathy toward the character is particularly necessary, although I did. It's a compelling, quietly moving watch because I think most of us can relate to that feeling of seeing ourselves but not knowing how to change, or not wanting to. It's not a film about huge transformations--it's about all the fallible little emotions roiling away underneath.

Jon Heder is great (and unrecognizable!) as Joby's good-natured but quiet and socially awkward lawyer who still lives with his mother. I feel like it was implied that the lawyer was attracted to Joby, or at the very least a little dazzled by him, and that perhaps Joby was slyly aware, but I'm really not sure. It would be interesting to hear what other people think on this point!

But as much as Joby is enigmatic and seductive at night, in a bar, to a possibly-gay lawyer from a small town, he is wondrously awkward and inarticulate beside the quietly confident four-foot frame of the eponymous Ellen, his daughter. Played with naturalism and conviction by Shaylena Mandigo she is at once child and adult, dependent and mentor, innocent and perspicacious. I don't have kids, but I could totally relate to the scenes between these two, from Joby's total terrifying absence of knowledge about how to entertain a kid, to the halted conversations in the mall, to the euphoric moments of connection in the park. I giggled and cringed my way through this section, because--YES! There's something about children that is so wonderfully refreshing and terrifying because they are kind of merciless, they don't help you out when you're floundering there looking like an idiot. And I think this is where Joby is really forced to confront himself, because not only is he finally with his daughter, the child he's possibly going to give up the rights to, but also because he can't hide from her. He can't play identity games--he's just totally stripped of armour and forced to be real.

It is slow paced, quiet and ponderous so if you're looking for a tear-jerker or something that clearly tells you how to feel (and nothing wrong with that if you are!) then this film probably won't impress you much. But, it has so much to recommend it: the performances are wonderful and naturalistic, the characters subtle, flawed and real, the cinematography and snowy-motel-highway landscape stark and lovely. The unintrusive but atmospheric score reminded me a little of the eerie Martha Marcy May Marlene soundtrack, and the end credits song (Sorrow by The National, new to me!) was kind of heartbreakingly perfect. It's a truly moving and thoughtful piece of work.

*Just a note on the current price though--I think £10 is an expensive risk if you haven't seen the film, and I personally avoid paying over 6 quid for DVDs these days. I'd wait till the price comes down or just rent it!
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 10 Dec 2013, 16:20:16 GMT
E.Meredith says:
What a superb review. I won't forget this film for a long time.

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Feb 2014, 18:42:28 GMT
A well enough written review. Shame about the film though as there is no meaningful dialogue and nothing at all happens. One of the most dull, tedious and dreary films I have ever had the misfortune to watch. One for the charity shop bag!
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Review Details

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Reviewer

Rosie McCaffrey
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   

Location: Glasgow, Scotland

Top Reviewer Ranking: 405,506