Dir: Amy Redford. US. 2008. 93mins.
The suggestive metaphor of loss and emotional trauma as divine liberation is treated awkwardly between the outrageous and obscene in Amy Redford's debut feature The Guitar. Saffron Burrows is commanding as a distraught woman who finds a novel way to cope with tragedy, but the movie constantly subverts realistic detail with the fantastic in waysthat are not dramatically satisfying.

Written by a man (Amos Poe) and directed by a woman (Redford), the movie seems fatally unsure of what it wants to say, trapped between conflicting expressions of male sexual fantasy and female empowerment.

Opening in the Sundance premiere section, the movie shares the dubious conceit of Rob Reiner's current release The Bucket List that cancer entails not sickness, loss and death but uncontrollable freedom from all social and cultural inhibitions. Even in a crowded independent market, the sexual material is likely to provide a cachet for the upscale and large urban markets. Burrows' name should mean play in the UK and other English-speaking territories. All told, the home ancillaries are probably the major destination for viewers.

The movie begins in a serenely grey and socially inhospitable New York. Melody Wilder (Burrows) is dealt a hammer blow of simultaneously losing her job, her boyfriend and being diagnosed with inoperable throat cancer. Discovering an advertisement for a New York loft, she uses her settlement cheque to acquire the short-term lease. Armed with a cache of credit cards, she begins stockpiling one glamorous object d'art after another for the immaculate and imposing space.

She also falls into simultaneous sexual affairs with her two primary vendors, Cookie (de la Huerta), a pizza delivery girl, and Roscoe (de Bankole), a furniture delivery man. The movie's title is revealed through a series of rather stridently imposed flashbacks or recovered memories of her unhappy childhood and her longing to possess an electric guitar. Melody purchases the cherished piece and begins teaching herself how to play.

As a fantasia or fable, The Guitar is certainly watchable. Burrows knows how to hold the centre of the screen. She surrenders herself to the part, and she is never less than compelling. Redford and her cinematographer Bobby Bukowski deploy imaginative and impressive visual designs that use her height to enforce her entrapment. Balancing her excellent work in Sundance dramatic competition title Choke, de la Huerta impresses in an underwritten part through her feline sexual exhibitionism. Jim Jarmusch regular de Bankole is also adequate in a part that never requires or demands much of him.

Poe's script is reportedly based on a true story. Regardless little of the work adds up either emotionally or dramatically. The supermodel beauty Wilder has apparently no other friends or male companions. Worst of all, the movie's bizarre idea that unbridled capitalist purchases of top of the line furniture and apparel are the surest means to achieve salvation or find personal deliverance seems both insulting and puerile.

The movie features Wilder quoting lines from poet and musician Patti Smith, but other than the childhood flashbacks the script fails to provide any sense of her inner life or background and what accounts for her being so remorse, passive and unhappy. The movie never reaches for the absurd or the ironic, continually finding a happy conclusion to smooth out the roughness and grubbiness of actual life.

People will probably enjoy watching The Guitar; they'll just hate themselves in the morning.

Production companies/backers
Applecreek Productions

Breakout Pictures
Cold Fusion Media Group

Cold Fusion Media Group
(1) 323-469-4444

Executive producers
Andy Emilio
Robert Lewis
Michael Roban
Damon Martin
Robert Kravitz
Milena Pappas
Rose Ganguzza

Bob Jason
Heyward Collins
Amy Redford
Amos Poe
Brad Zions

Amos Poe

Director of photography
Bobby Bukowski

Production designer
Marla Weinhoff

David Leonard

David Mansfield

Main cast:
Saffron Burrows
Paz de la Huerta
Issach de Bankole
Janeane Garofalo
Reg Rogers
Adam Trese
David Wain
Mia Kucan