Moody in every way, For Ellen is bearable thanks to a brilliant central performance.
Moody in every way, For Ellen is bearable thanks to a
brilliant central performance.
musicians and celebrities seem to be the indie subject of choice at the
moment. Last year we had Stephen Dorff moping about in Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere and this year we’ve already seen Sean Penn traversing the globe looking like a sad sack Robert Smith in This Must Be The Place.
So when we first meet Paul Dano’s
Joby Taylor you wonder if you’re about to see anything new. The answer is yes, sort of. In so far as very little actually
happens in For Ellen. It is essentially Dano trying to figure
out who he is in the world while mooching about a snow-covered town.
estranged wife fighting for sole custody of their young daughter, Joby drives
through the night to try and sort out the mess. What he is told upon arrival is that if he wants half the
settlement of the house he will have to agree to never see his daughter Ellen (Shaylena Mandigo) again. Distraught by the news, his lawyer Fred
(Jon Heder) tries to cheer him up by
inviting him over for dinner before Joby is finally allowed to spend a few
hours the following day with Ellen, a young girl who seems to understand the
situation much better than her father does.
Early on in For
Ellen you suspect that director So Young
Kim may have a very poignant point to make. His car skidding off the road and lodging itself in a snowdrift,
Joby is a man truly isolated in the world. A lost soul who has struggled to find true success on the
music scene (his lawyer picked up their first album at a garage sale) and wants
to do something right for his daughter before it’s too late. And then, like the bleak snow that
surrounds the film, the story falls flat.
It becomes supremely self-indulgent as we gawp at Joby naval gazing
around town. Kim’s direction is
solid enough, shooting Joby in tight close-ups while everyone else seems to be
shot with more freedom in the frame, but her ideas and plot cease to
There is a moment
towards the end when two events suggest the film may rise out of
mediocrity. The first is Joby
meeting and spending some time with Ellen. It’s a truly heartbreaking moment that lifts the film to a
new level. Then Joby’s girlfriend,
played by a horribly underused nymph-like Jena
Malone, turns up and gives us an insight into Joby’s frame of mind before
the film began. But these two
instances are so fleeting it only heightens the frustration of the film.
Overall For Ellen
will put you in the same frame of mind as Joby; depressed and slightly
ambivalent to the world. However,
Dano’s performance is worth a mention.
Something of an indie darling thanks to Little Miss Sunshine and There
Will Be Blood, Dano again proves his versatility and screen presence
here. As Joby he is constantly
strung-out, eyes half-closed and hair a mess. On some levels he’s a stereotypical washed-up, wannabe
rock-star but Dano injects something real into him. There’s no Mick Jagger swagger or bravado, rather he’s a
sentimental fool too blind to see where he has gone wrong for so long. Add to this a stunning performance from
the young Shaylena Mandigo, who easily has what it takes to be the next Chloe Moretz or Abigail Breslin, and the acting on display in For Ellen goes some
way to rectifying the boredom that would otherwise set in.
Perhaps with more
Ellen and less moping, For Ellen could have been a winner. As it is it feels more like one of
those losers you refuse to feel sorry for.