Jolene

[Screenshot]I saw a trailer for this at the front of a completely different movie (I completely forget which one), and it seemed like it might be interesting, so I enqueued.

It’s structurally quite competent, laid out in a series of interlocking vignettes, and there’s some pretty decent acting: Chazz Palminteri particularly does a nuanced job, and the comparatively obscure Jessica Chastain held up the lead role respectably. The other actors do a decent job with what are honestly rather cartoonish characters.

It’s hard to know what to make of the story thematically, though. It’s a downer of a story, and wanders into strange, skeevy areas with regard to gender and agency. In several of the early vignettes it’s hard to tell whether Jolene is an innocent victim of the (mostly male, although women not of Jolene’s generation also get to be malicious on several occasions) predators in her life or whether she consciously embraces her own destruction. I found myself constantly troubled by the lack of agency she exhibited, drifting passively into other people’s circles; the only case where she takes an instigatory role is the episode with Coco. But further into the story her lack of control over her fate seems to become a theme: she actively resists entanglement with Brad, and ends up getting horrifically fucked over anyways.

I’m focusing on themes because they were what stood out the most for me. The story itself kind of wanders and never really picks up speed, and the cinematography doesn’t really make it pop except early on when it embraced a late-60s/early-70s aesthetic. Apropos of that, the chronology of the film’s a bit tricky to get a handle on: we have a number of markers firmly mooring the different segments in different times and places, from the early-70s beginning to the end which signals certain “mid-90s” elements, and I’m not sure how well the timeline actually fits. Really, in spite of its many virtues of design, Jolene is a little bit drab and doesn’t really stick firmly in one’s mind. I’m a bit curious about the source novel now, but this is a film very little of which, I fear, is really going to stay with me (and indeed now, months later, finishing this review, very little seems memorable).

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

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About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

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