Saturday, July 16, 2011

Zellweger & Whitaker fans, Olivier Dahan's MY OWN LOVE SONG goes straight to DVD

Remember Olivier Dahan? Even if you don't, you'll remem-ber the movie he directed and co-wrote, La Vie en Rose (original French title La môme) that was an enormous box-office smash internation-ally back in 2007 and won Marion Cotillard her Best Actress "Oscar." (Dahan also directed Crimson Rivers 2, a more mainstream -- and actually better, more entertaining -- version of its predecessor that boasts one of the best chase scenes in movie history.)  So what's this guy been doing of late? The answer, of course, is MY OWN LOVE SONG, a movie he made in 2009, right here in the USA.

Politely put, the film's a mess, and yet it is never for an instant unwatchable, sometimes much more than that, and now and again simply riveting -- visually and vocally. Dahan, shown at right, does what so many foreign filmmakers do when given the chance to shoot in America: He goes bananas. Tossing just about everything (well, there isn't a serial killer) into this road trip, the writer/director tells the story of a woman (Renée Zellweger) who used to be a singer until she had an auto accident, during and after which she lost a lot of things, including her young son. So she and her BFF mental patient (played by Forest Whitaker) hit that road so that he can attend a lecture by his hero (a man who offers his flock belief in angels and ghosts) and she can accompany him (it's her car).

Along the way they meet folk like Elias Koteas (as an over-sexed sleazeball), Madeline Zima, above, right, with Zellweger (as a sweetie-pie looking for her missing hubby) and Nick Nolte (an over-the-hill musician harboring some secrets). There are others, too. During one extended sequence, the filmmaker simply shoots a bunch of fabulous-looking faces and people, not bothering to tell us much about them at all. Yet the sequence works well enough, as does so much else in the movie, including even some colorful fantasy bits (one such appears, with Whitaker, below) and others that, out of nowhere, use animation.

The road trip format, coupled to the looniness of the characters -- especially, Whitaker, Zima,  Nolte and Koteas -- give the film a kind of "anything goes" quality which, together with Zellweger's quiet strength, manages to holds things together. At 105 minutes, the movie has an unhurried pace; as quirky/crazy as the people and events become, the movie is never pushy. When it dawdles, we dawdle right along -- never more so than with the song "I Believe in You," accompanied by lovely visuals of the cast. Much of the music is by Bob Dylan, who is said to have written some songs especially for the film.

Dylan's stuff is OK, but the musical highlight comes as Zellweger takes the stage to sing Woody Guthrie's This Land Is Your Land. Wearing little make-up throughout the film and nailing each moment, Zellweger is as good in this role as she has been since the under-seen and under-sung Leatherheads. And what a wonderful, occasionally raspy but always rich voice she has! Hearing her sing this great song will make you wish that she had indeed played the Janis Joplin role that was said to be on tap for her. Is it too late, I wonder?

Meanwhile we have this odd little movie to keep us entertained but expecting more and better from all concerned. Available on DVD (the movie only), Blu-ray (with a few extras) and via streaming (from Netflix), this Inception Media Group release is worth a watch, especially for fans of Whitaker and Zellweger. We also get the expected "pro" results from Nolte and Koteas, while the dear Ms Zima is an unalloyed delight.

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