2002 - R - 96 Mins.
|Director: Karen Moncrieff
|Producer: Peer J. Oppenheimer, Peer Oppenheimer, Amy Sommer, David Waters
|Written By: Karen Moncrieff
|Starring: Agnes Bruckner, David Strathairn, Margaret Colin, Frances Fisher, AJ Buckley
|Review by: Marc Eastman
What makes poetry great (allow me to pretend to know for a moment), is not that it is somehow mystical, or even ‘better’ than something any average person might have done. Poetry differs in this regard from say, writing a novel, because part of a great story is that you ‘never would have thought of that’ (or something along those lines anyway). No, what makes poetry great is that it is simply how things are, and by finding the perfection of expression it tells you what you knew already. At the end of a great poem what you think is, ‘how could I not have thought of that myself’. The difference between the two kinds of writing is that great novelists are better at making up stories, and telling them, though everyone makes up stories with some degree of ability, but a great poet just tells the truth in a way (perhaps) only other great poets can really understand. The stories of the novelist, though they may serve to explain life in a wonderful way, do not really have much in common with real life (though they often work to appear to), but if you know how to look at it, all of life happens in poetry.
It’s rather odd then that a movie that is so focused on poetry would deliver an almost perfunctory look at its own story. “You can go deeper,” a character in the movie advises another, but the movie certainly can’t. If there is anything at all this movie can’t do, it is to move beyond the most shallow, hollow, ordinary expression of what it has to say.
‘Blue Car’ tells us the story of a troubled, teenage girl. Her life at home is dysfunctional to say the least, and her life at school is about to be. Her father has left the family for reasons left unmentioned, but possibly because her mother is more than a little screwy. On the other hand, possibly not, it doesn’t seem to matter. What matters is that our heroine hasn’t come to grips with the loss of her father figure. Our heroine also has a younger sister who is having an even worse time of things. These sisters are latchkey kids now, with mom working and going to school, and the younger sister resorts to cutting and a variety of other unstable outlets to display her lack of solid grounding.
Life’s no picnic for our heroine. She is in AP English at school though, and when she reads a poem that obviously details the fact that she is severely distraught about the state of her family, and most importantly the fact that her father is gone, we get to meet her English teacher. From here the movie progresses with life at home becoming worse and worse, and life at school becoming more and more inappropriate. You know where we’re going.
That’s pretty much the entire problem with the movie... you know where it’s going. I’m not generally a fan of the ‘predictability’ criticism, being that the vast majority of movies aren’t fooling anyone in any case, and very few are trying to, but when you know everything that is going to happen in a movie after watching ten minutes of it, something has definitely gone wrong. I don’t mean that you know what happens in the usual ‘I know the good guy is going to win’ sense of the idea, I mean that you know exactly what is going to happen, and you know exactly what every character is going to say every moment of the film. We’re in very poor made-for-television mode here.
The main failing here is obviously with the writing. There seems to have been some confusion about the idea of foreshadowing. Where a good idea for a script would be that the events that transpire lead to the next events, here we’ve taken that to mean that the events that transpire should make every next event ridiculously obvious. From the moment we meet the teacher, for example, there isn’t the slightest doubt about what’s going on in his mind. It’s not even so much the general idea that we’re going down a teacher/student inappropriate relationship road. If we only got that out of the very first scene with the teacher, it would still not be that great actually, but we could easily forgive it. No, it’s far worse than that, because we could easily fast-forward from that first scene to the last few scenes of the movie where much is revealed about the teacher’s motives, and reasoning, and we’d simply acknowledge that we knew everything there was to know.
The same is true of every character in the film. Our heroine’s little sister is precisely the same. After a few minutes with her, we know not only exactly how she will end up, but exactly how she will get there. At a certain point we meet a character who might as well be named Ne’er-do-well, and from the first moment he walks into the room we know exactly the purpose he serves, and where he will get us (and just to let you in on how truly clueless this movie is, we know everything about this character based on the facts that... A) We've come to realize this is a stupid movie, and B) He's wearing a leather jacket).
It’s practically a primer for how not to make a movie, and the fact that Karen Moncrieff is the writer and director should have clued us in. Veteran actress from various soap operas, and virtually nothing else, this is Moncrieff’s first foray into either the writing or directing world, and nothing could surprise the audience less. This is rather a lower end production, and I’m the first to make allowances for such things, but even within the general parameters of an indie film, the direction is sub-par. There’s indie film, and then there’s AfterSchool special. The entire film is shot using a general frame of mind I like to call 'taking vacation pictures'.
Of course, such things are hardly of consequence without some level of possible interest in the movie at a more base level, and here there is none. On its face the movie is the definition of boredom-inducing, with every aspect of the story being not merely overwhelmingly obvious, but mere rehashings of things we’ve seen a thousand times before. The truth is, the whole film could be stripped down to a fifteen minute highlight reel of introductions to the characters, and at the end an audience would say, “Ah, yes, I see where you’re going here,” and the thing would have the same effect.
You may have noticed that I didn’t bother with the names of any of the characters, and frankly, it’s that sort of movie. The real pity is that David Strathairn is involved, but only on a personal level. I don’t think he’s especially great, but I liked him as the blind guy in ‘Sneakers’, and I’ve liked him in just about everything since. I say it’s a pity, because he’s doing what he can here, but when the script says, “Be bloody obvious about your intentions,” and you look at the director and realize it’s the writer, there ain’t much you can do.
Let me give you just a slight bit of further warning here. ‘Blue Car’ is just the sort of ‘arthouse’ garbage that is extremely likely to get a lot of positive reviews. Let me give you the formula for those reviews so that you can keep it in the back of your mind while you decide if they should influence you. 1) ‘Blue Car’ is outrageously, and almost downright offensively melodramatic and banal. 2) It pretends, by virtue of purporting to show ‘stark reality’, that 1 is not the case.