Jolene: E.L. Doctorow’s B-List Sexual Picaresque

Just because you co-founded SIFF doesn't mean you should be directing movies. Back in '96, Dan Ireland had a small success with his first try, The Whole Wide World, which gave Renée Zellweger her breakout role. (Um, thanks for that?) This time around, actress Jessica Chastain occupies every scene in this lame picaresque, adapted from a 2004 E.L. Doctorow short story, and better roles will eventually come to her. Here she's run through a ringer of five unhappy relationships as impetuous Jolene matures from 15 to 25. Without parents, she bounces from foster care to a succession of abusive/treacherous/doomed romances; the effect is like seeing the same pretty, red-haired actress in five random episodes from five unrelated soap operas. The supporting cast of Rupert Friend, Frances Fisher, Dermot Mulroney, Michael Vartan, Chazz Palminteri, Theresa Russell, and Denise Richards—Denise Richards?—is equally random. (Fisher does best by appearing least; Palminteri's frozen face is just sad.) Each new vignette of hardship and betrayal is made all the more predictable by Jolene's narration—as if we need to be told what just happened after we saw it coming? No matter what adversity she suffers, Jolene rebounds from each setback. Her motto—"Isn't it amazing how you can find beauty no matter where you are?" No, Jolene, not here.

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