Dir/scr: Olivier Dahan. France-US. 2010. 101 mins
An ill-advised and painfully earnest misfire, My Own Love Song saddles a talented name cast with a thin premise, clunky dialogue and a benign - but narratively inert - belief in the curative power of damaged souls coming together to heal a catalogue of emotional wounds.
Ordinarily, poor word of mouth would crush any serious commercial prospects but, given the material’s pedigree, the curiosity factor may carry this English-language production surprisingly far.
Episodic venture from writer-director Olivier Dahan (La Vie en Rose) will no doubt remain the only film ever to boast dandelion fluff angels frolicking on the moon, a split-screen car chase AND an original score by Bob Dylan. Ordinarily, poor word of mouth would crush any serious commercial prospects but, given the material’s pedigree, the curiosity factor may carry this English-language production surprisingly far after its April 7 debut in France.
This head-scratchingly awkward endeavour puts too much stock in American archetypes: Joey (Forest Whitaker), the large black man who’s a tender pussycat; Jane (Renee Zellweger) the bitter, wheelchair-bound, former singer whose love for her long-unseen young son will set her free; Billie (Madeline Zima), the flaky misfit whose husband left her in the lurch; Caldwell (Nick Nolte), the crusty Southern bluesman on the lam, and Dean (Elias Koteas), the jovial con man…not to mention the folksy landscape peppered with good-hearted people.
Somewhere in Kansas, Joey, a sweet, harmless bear of a man who speaks to ghosts and believes in angels, provides constant unsolicited pep talks to Jane who abandoned her singing career after a car accident left her paralysed from the waist down. Claiming he wants to see a motivational speaker in New Orleans, Joey is secretly plotting to reunite Jane with the son she put in foster care seven years earlier and whose communion will soon be celebrated in Louisiana’s capital, Baton Rouge.
Needless to say, a poor white woman in a wheelchair and a goofy black man who hears voices attract adversity and random acts of kindness on their no-budget journey. To the film’s credit, its characters have all borne their physical and mental tragedies before we meet them, so there’s nowhere to go but up.
The cast give dignified performances despite the embarrassing material and Whitaker in particular seems to glow from within when expressing his chaste devotion to his paraplegic friend. In a way her singing in Chicago did not, Zellweger’s two songs make one sorry she outgrew the role of Janis Joplin before a long-rumoured biopic ever took form.
Nolte does lived-in rascal to perfection in his short, potent, turn as a guitar player who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina and Zima is touchingly adorable in an ethereal way. Dylan’s gravelly custom score is a plus, as are the giant hand-drawn animated birds which appear for no particular reason along a stretch of urban landscape in New Orleans.
But the basic ingredients are simply too hackneyed for a gifted cast, pleasant photography and the occasional touch of whimsy to overcome. With Dahan already having excelled at the biopic and put his stamp on the thriller genre with the entertaining sequel to The Crimson Rivers, the kindest thing one can say is that he probably shouldn’t have tackled the American road movie.
Production companies: Legende
International sales: Kinology, +33 (0) 9 51 47 43 44
Producers: Alain Goldman
Executive producers: James W. Skotchdopole
Cinematography: Matt Libatique
Production designer: Jan Roelfs
Editors: Richard Marizy, Stan Collet
Music: Bob Dylan
Main cast: Renee Zellweger, Forest Whitaker, Madeline Zima, Nick Nolte, Elias Koteas