The face of Paul Dano, in the role of the young preacher in There Will Be Blood, was one of the highlights of 2007. Its smooth, pale intensity was angelic and sinister at the same time—a dissonant synthesis that contributed heavily to the tension that permeated the entire film, and helped it win several Oscar nominations and awards.
There will be no Oscars for Dano or anyone else in For Ellen, a sluggish movie about a frustrated would-be heavy-metal singer who drives to a snowy town in upstate New York to sign his divorce papers and maybe meet his young daughter. Director So Yong Kim is attracted to Dano's face (even though it's aged a bit), as any director should be. She devotes long, close-up shots to him brooding, smoking, and sitting in slack-jawed vacancy, with occasional glimmers of indignation as he is exhumed out of his rock-star fantasy world by icy facts—his estranged wife will let him have half of the financial value of the house if she gets full custody of their daughter.
The heavy-metal singer proceeds to drink, pass out in his hotel room, and eventually make a date with his daughter. The moral dilemma—whether he should fight for shared custody of little Ellen or let go and free-fall back into his self-centered world—is timidly poked at but never really examined. For Ellen has few words and fewer galvanizing moments: It's just passive people (the singer, the wife, the lawyers, the girl) drifting along in a shaky-camera, indie-stylized film, failing to make any human connections. From its snowy, small-town setting to its characters' half-asleep minds, For Ellen is a cold film.