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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Jolene

May 4th, 2011

Jolene - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Jolene was first released in 2008 at the Seattle International Film Festival and earned some positive buzz, especially for its star, Jessica Chastain, who won Best Actress. But it took two more years for the film to get a theatrical release, and even then it more or less disappeared. Was the early buzz warranted? Or was there a good reason for the delay getting to theaters?

The Movie

We first meet Jolene on her wedding day at age 15. She's an orphan whose family life up till now has been confined to a series of foster homes, which have turned out to be less than ideal. (The fathers hit on her, the mothers just hit her.) She's marrying Mickey, a fellow orphan, but who is living with his Uncle Phil and Aunt Fay. It's a loving family, but the relationship between Jolene and Uncle Phil become a little too loving and that marriage comes to a tragic end.

As a result, she's sent to a juvie / mental hospital untill age 18, because she's a minor without any living relatives. There she meets Cindy, who is a guard. Cindy helps Jolene adapt, sneaks her cigarettes, gets her art supplies, and eventually starts having sex with her. She agrees to help her break out of juvie, as long as they live together forever, a promise Jolene breaks at the nearest opportunity and begins hitchhiking her way across the country. (With the occasional bit of prostitution along the way.)

When she gets to Phoenix, she works as a waitress at a drive-in and attracts the attention of Coco Leger, a tattoo artist / songwriter / drug dealer.

... It is clear by this point that Jolene is never going to have a normal relationship, because she has a knack for picking horrible guys. Unfortunately, we are only halfway through her parade of failed relationships. As I kept watching this film, I was waiting for Jolene to learn from her mistakes, but she seems stuck in this abusive cycle and the longer it went on, the more exploitative it felt. Any sympathy I had for the character at the beginning of the movie quickly evaporated with each bad decision she made. Every time she managed to escape one bad situation, she ran headlong into another. By the time the film's two-hour running time was over, two-hour running time, my patience was exhausted.

It's not all bad and Jessica Chastain is good in the role, for the most part. (The voiceover seems like it was a late edition at times.) But overall it is too episodic, too repetitive, and too long to recommend.

The Extras

Dan Ireland sits down for an audio commentary track that details the usual aspects of making a independent film, adapting a short story, acting, etc. There are numerous long pauses, which adversely affect the quality. There are more than 30 minutes of interviews, including a 20-minute one with Dan Ireland and Jessica Chastain, as well as shorter interviews with Theresa Russell, Michael Vartan, and Dermot Mulroney. Finally, there are three and a half minutes of outtakes, which feel out of place given the tone of the movie.

There are no additional extras on the Blu-ray, it is also a little on the weak side when it comes to its technical presentation. It's not bad, but the details are not as sharp as they could be. Nor are the colors very bright, with a lot of scenes having a washed out look. The audio is as good as one would expect for a dialogue driven film. The music does make use of the surround sound speakers, but there's not a lot in terms of dynamics.

On the other hand, the Blu-ray is substantially cheaper than the DVD is on

The Verdict

Jessica Chastain is very busy at the moment with roles in half a dozen films opening in the next couple years. As such, Jolene could becomes an interesting film, since it is her first starring role, and she does very well in the movie. However, that's not enough. If you are interested in buying the movie, the Blu-ray is cheaper than the DVD on, but I would definitely rent it first.

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Filed under: Video Review, Jolene