From time to time a movie hits my DVD & Blu-Ray stacks and I look at the box, take a look online to see what the buzz was on the title - and ya know. There are movies that never find their audiences. They can play festivals, but never find the right eyes. There have been a lot of instances where a film just misses at Sundance or Toronto or Cannes or... well you know the list, but when they play SXSW or a smaller, film loving crowd... An audience that doesn't take your filmmography to use against the new film, which doesn't necessarly seem to fit.
Back in 1999, Moriarty and I met the Martini Brothers and saw their film, SMILING FISH & GOAT ON FIRE - and we fell in love with the film. But as the years passed... I never really heard from the pair again. Then in 2008, Derick Martini directed a film based upon his and his brother's younger life... and it was produced by Martin Scorsese. The film was called LYMELIFE. It missed me. I didn't not like it, it just never caught my eye. It happens. The sheer volume of films that are released in a year... well it leaves you a bit breathless.
But when I saw Chloe Moretz brandishing a gun, saw that Juliette Lewis played her mother. That Eddie Redmayne, who was just brilliant in MY WEEK WITH MARILYN and BLACK DEATH, was a major character... That Alec Baldwin was a part of it along with Blake Lively. Well I was interested, when I looked at the name of the director, I was like... "NO SHIT! GOOD FOR HIM!" and put it in, not really knowing anything other than it disappointed some critics.
In a very odd way, the film almost plays to me as a prequel to TAXI DRIVER from the perspective of Jodie Foster's oh so young working girl. It doesn't exactly go there, but it feels like it wanted to. It plays on your protective feelings for Chloe... But in many ways, this is her single most emotional and powerful performance. Not as iconic as HIT GIRL, nor as genre-friendly as LET ME IN.
She lives with her mom in a small town, watching her mom pick up men in the honky tonk Hick bars that she frequents - and the small town joints are small town enough to be that permissive. She watches her mom use men for drinks, she's aware that her mom trades her charms, but the kids at school call her a BARN BABY because it has gone around that she was born in a barn. Gosh, like Jesus? Ok, that was a manger, but there was hay and animals most likely and the name hurts.
When she sees an ad for the glitzy life of LAS VEGAS and her Mom has hopped in a big car with some man and is gone for however long she'll be gone for, she's decided not to hang around with the alcoholic trash her mom keeps in her bed somewhat regularly. She takes some money, packs a bag - and decides to hitch her way to Las Vegas. Making a list of positives that includes finding a "SUGAR DADDY" and has the singular negative of, "I COULD DIE."
The first vehicle that is curious is driven by Eddie Redmayne, who plays a retired young rodeo cowboy, that didn't fare so well. He's got a leg that got all torn up and an arm that just doesn't seem to quite do what it should at times. He's amused by the very tough flirt of Chloe. Gives her a ride.
Now she tries to make a judgement call about getting in, but Redmayne has charm. His eyes can smile and they can creep you out. But she's a girl that longs to be told she's beautiful, no man or boy has ever told her such things. He doesn't just say it, he has that scoundrel thing that some women eat up with a spoon. He's playful to her, but when he throws out something derogatory at her, she fires back with something, that brings a really scary side of this character. She demands to be let out - and is.
She isn't done with him. In fact her road introduces her to a "worldly" grifter and lady of convenience that sees exactly who Chloe is. Teaches her some things she's gonna wanna know if she's choosing this path. She introduces her to things, that likely most sensible and good people would find... just evil, but this is always a possibility when teenagers hit a highway looking for their dreams... Things that might feel like a dream. Experiences that light up the senses but lead you on a path that can... well, we know.
Throughout the film, we know that in Chloe's bag, she has a gun. The poster shows her wielding it, and in an early scene before leaving home, she does pull it on a stranger she finds in her home. But we don't know if she'll ever pull the trigger - and as most know, the gun could save her life, but more likely... it'll just get used against her. As Will Munny once said in another film, "It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have." and this Chloe isn't a pint-sized ginsu assassin. This film, it feels more real than that 4-color fantasy.
This film takes Chloe in places that we don't want to think about a 14 year old girl being. She's on her own. Surrounded by really bad people. Everyone is a stranger she shouldn't be talking with. Everyone has crushed dreams and lousy lives. She goes through so much, that even when she meets someone that could possibly be good... her Pavlovian road treatment has left her unable to accept it.
This isn't a cautionary tale to show the kids... but in a way, it kinda is. It's shock therapy to a degree - and even as things wrap up and she's got a smile on her face... is that really a happy ending? Did she make the right decision? Depends on your outlook on life. I like to believe in the good of humanity. But the world shows us and markets us a very different world.
I spent age 11 through 17 with an Alcoholic mother that had a string of hustlers and "cowboys". She'd wake up with a broken jaw, because on booze, she got angry and violent and the kind of men after my father... well they were never raised to NOT HIT A LADY. And if she pointed it out, they'd just say she wasn't one. There's ugliness in my "miraculous life" that I've seen in the "Hick" culture of Northern Texas that made me long for the town I first knew. That more than anything gave me a picture of the life I did not want to be a part of. I went through that, not as an adult, but as a kid - that just tried to do best by his sister for as long as I could, without ruining my chance at a good life.
Watching a film like this gives me a peek at what might have been awaiting my little sister, had Mom not died in that fire. Had she not moved to Austin with Dad & I after that.
Things seem to happen quickly to her - but even by the end, she isn't finished with the road. We each have to choose a road in our lives, this is one such tale. But there's a moment in this film that destroys her to her core. Nothing in her life prepares her for it. It's a moment where nothing she knows makes sense and she is at a standstill. I pray you never see a moment like this in your life... that isn't a part of a film. Because if that look that is on her face, is on yours. HUG. We know it is a big scary world out there, but it is a rare film that shows me horrors that prey upon the innocent and does so with such power.
After watching HICK, I had to see LYMELIFE. I completely get why Scorsese produced it, in many ways I see an echo of the complicated lives behnd the facade of normalcy that I love in Douglas Sirk's work. Having seen the two latest works from Martini, I feel with absolute certain that we'll see him raise his profile very shortly. There's more to come from him and I for one can not wait to see it. He gets one helluva performance out of Blake Lively in HICK - and that's not the easiest thing. As some of you will attest.
This is a hard film. It isn't pretty, but I found it incredibly compelling. Enjoyable? Yes, in the sense that I feel stories like this must be made. If only to scare a few kids into completing High School and try to make something of themselves. Don't be in a rush to grow up. I certainly will not!