Forty Shades of Blue

Runs Fri. Nov. 25–Thurs. Dec. 1, at Varsity.

Rip Torn has become the grizzled poster boy for a certain kind of Sundance movie. From Heartland to Cross Creek to here, he signifies the sincere yet inarticulate feeling so beloved of the indie filmmakers he could now claim as his shoe-staring children. Director Ira Sachs picked up a Park City prize this year by casting Torn as a guy who can only express himself through music. Memphis music-industry legend Alan James can write, produce, and sing (while ruling his studio like a tyrant), but he can't find the words to communicate offstage. (Sachs twice shows us Alan scribbling down speeches in advance, just to help clarify.) His boozing and carousing have deposited a chain of wives in his wake, plus one adult son, and left him shacked up with his much-younger Russian girlfriend and their 3-year-old boy. Laura (Dina Korzun) smilingly apologizes for her charming but imperfect English, shielding herself by calling everything "interesting," but she's not much of a talker, either.

People talking in rooms generally does not meet my definition of good cinema, and people not talking in rooms is even worse. This couple and their few friends stumble through their lives like Carver characters stranded in the South. They keep asking, "How ya doin'?" as a courtesy between puffs on a cigarette or pulls off a bottle; needless to say, nobody pays any attention to the answer—if or when it comes.

So we naturally hope the solitary arrival of Alan's handsome son Michael (Darren Burrows) will change things. He's a teacher and writer out in Los Angeles; he wears a corduroy jacket like he stepped off the set of a Hal Hartley movie or The Squid and the Whale. But, no, he just smokes politely and stares at Laura. His marriage is in trouble, and he means trouble for Laura and Alan, who aren't even married.

None of these three performers is lacking in soulfulness. The lovely Korzun is particularly fine, almost Garbo-esque in her yearning silences, and it's criminal that her 2000 English-language debut, Last Resort, isn't on DVD. But co-writer Sachs gives them nothing to say. The drama's predictable as well, and the neat old soundtrack—with Memphis chestnuts like "Dark End of the Street"—gets pushed too far into the background. We see Laura keeping a diary and writing lyrics, like Alan's jotted notes, but Blue fails as a movie about people whose words fail them. (NR)

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