This is Jolene.
  • This is Jolene.
To be honest, I've been seriously dragging my feet on reviewing Jolene—the latest film from SIFF cofounder Dan Ireland—because, you know, there's next week's paper to get out, and blogging to do, and it made the festival rounds in 2008 (which is a stupid long time ago), and it's a pretty negligible, mediocre, standard middle-tier festival movie anyway and you really shouldn't see it unless you have a serious redhead fetish (and in that case, wouldn't you rather watch it at home on DVD where you can have free and easy access to your johnson?). And now—wouldn't you know it—it's Wednesday already and Jolene might be gone tomorrow. Well, no big loss.

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For some context, here's how I felt about Ireland's last directorial effort, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont:

Mrs. Palfrey might be the chewiest, cheesiest corncake ever to hit the screen. Hey, Mrs. P, what about the things that matter in life? "Most of the things that mattered to me aren't around anymore. They live in here [points to head] and here [points to heart]." Hey, Ludo, what's it like talking to Mrs. P? "She danced around her memories with the agile step of a young girl." Hey, what's that in my lap? Oh, it's barf.

If I were old—which I'm not—I'd be offended by patronizing drivel like Mrs. Palfrey. Why do we pander to the elderly the way we pander to children? Aren't old people just young people who've been hanging around longer? Does the human animal biologically outgrow good taste?

I don't feel much better about Jolene. It has the same sugared, patronizing tone as Mrs. Palfrey, but the forcibly "empowered" female in this case is a youngster: 16-year-old Jolene (Jessica Chastain), nubility personified, a rosy-cheeked bumpkin and perpetual victim with a deeply malfunctioning creep radar. Based on a short story by E.L. Doctorow, the film might as well have been subtitled Creeps I Have Banged. Like most women (you know us!), Jolene's life consists of nothing but a series of shitty relationships. There's the idiot manchild, the predatory uncle (Dermot Mulroney), the downmarket Dave Navarro (Rupert Friend), the mobster-with-a-heart-of-gold (Chazz Palmienteri), the lesbian nuthouse guard, and the rich abusive freak (a horribly miscast Michael Vartan). Along the way, Jolene gets a new personality with each wardrobe change (because her actual personality DOESN'T EXIST), and Ireland treats the audience to a gratuitous five-minute stripping scene (that's in her down-and-out Vegas phase). Oh yeah, and also Denise Richards is in it.

This is a movie about Jessica Chastain's body. This is a movie made by a man. And I've read multiple blurbs by male critics fawning over Jolene: what a stunning breakthrough role it is for Chastain (and true, she is very lovely), how moved and inspired they are by Jolene's personal journey, how it's such a mighty shame that the film wallowed without distribution for two whole years. And I'm sorry, dudes, I'm sure you're all very sincere, but when I read these reviews all I hear is TITTIES TITTIES TITTIES TITTIES TITTIES TITTIES TITTIES TITTIES TITTIES TITTIES TITTIES TITTIES TITTIES TITTIES TITTIES!!!!!!!

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I call bullshit. Jolene is paternalistic softcore porn for men who like to think of themselves as "sensitive," which means that they're too "respectful" of women to buy Girls Gone Wild Part 45: The Legend of Curly's Titties. It's a mediocre movie with a very nice central performance. But spending two hours shitting all over this dishrag of a character, only to have her "redeem" herself at the 11th hour with an absurd pipe dream about becoming a movie star (way to have options, women!)—that is not empowerment, it's exploitation.

So that's that. You can go see Jolene tonight or tomorrow, if you want.