It’s very rare for me to say somebody deserves an Oscar nomination for a role, and then for me to not recommend the movie that contains that performance.
John Hawkes, again proving he’s one of the best actors around, does an amazing job playing the heroin-addicted, jazz pianist Joe Albany. The story was taken from a memoir, and screenplay co-written, by his daughter Amy-Jo (played in the movie by Elle Fanning). Amy-Jo obviously loves her dad to death, but I’m afraid she doesn’t realize…he was basically a loser that wasted some immense talent. Her take is probably just that the heroin got the best of him, otherwise he would’ve been a great dad. I call BS on such logic, but that’s another argument for another day.
It’s Los Angeles in 1974, and cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt (The Bling Ring) caught some dark undertones with his brownish colors that really give this period piece the perfect look of the dying jazz scene.
There are plenty of colorful characters. Peter Dinklage is a neighbor Amy-Jo seems intrigued by (until she finds out he does pornos).
Lena Headey plays the alcoholic mother, who spews venom every time we see her.
Glenn Close channels Ruth Gordon, as the mother trying (albeit poorly), to get her son off the junk.
It’s fun watching Hawkes hammer away at the keys, and talk to other musicians (one played by Red Hot Chili Pepper bassist Flea, who was actually a child prodigy playing trumpet). Yet for a movie that’s a love letter to a crappy father, it would’ve been nice to hear more jazz. Watching the band in Whiplash, although for such short bursts because of the band leader, can be an enthralling experience. Why they didn’t give us more of that is perplexing.
When Woody Allen did Sweet and Low Down, we got lots of tasty jazz numbers and Django Reinhardt tunes. Sean Penn may have played a pathetic character, but we enjoyed watching every minute of him (and he didn’t have a daughter he was trying to raise).
Sometimes when you watch protagonists that go nowhere, it can be entertaining. I didn’t mind watching Faye Dunaway and Mickey Rourke drink their lives away in Barfly. These characters…are just dreary and they get tedious to watch.
The seedy underworld of Los Angeles was interesting. The score was top-notch.
I’m a bit tired of seeing Elle Fanning in so many indie pictures, and the same tired facial expressions, yet her performance is solid. This is an indie film that wasted a stellar cast.
It gets 2 stars out of 5.