Tuesday 12 February 2013

For Ellen - Paul Dano, in the snow

'For Ellen' is the third film from Korean/American director SoYong Kim. Her first feature 'In Between Days' won the special Jury Prize at Sundance in 2007, and 'For Ellen' was also very well received at Sundance in 2012. It is a very slow moving film, this new 'slow cinema' style is scenery heavy, script light and this is no different, but there is a tender beauty to the wintry landscapes.
The story revolves around Joby Taylor (Paul Dano, in what many are calling his finest performance to date) and the thousands of close ups of his hairy chin, as he leaves Chicago and his life as lead singer of a rock band, to see his soon to be ex-wife and the daughter he has never made any effort to see. He finds out via his bumbling lawyer (Jon Heder, aka Napoleon Dynamite and man of unnaturally pink lips) that in order to settle the divorce and get his 50% share of their house, he must relinquish all custody rights of Ellen. So despite having had nothing to with Ellen, the thought of losing her forces Joby to think about his role as a father, and try to get to know his daughter. SoYong Kim was inspired to write this film based on her own life, she only met her father once when she was 5yrs old. Her musings on why a parent walks away from their child, is obviously something that has haunted her, and the film is very touching.

One of the problems I had with this film is the constant close ups, and super tight shots, only slightly balanced out by the snowy plains and cloudy sky's. A good three quarters of the film is all about Joby, a vain character who it seems has never cared about anybody else before. His attempts to get to know Ellen is awkward but genuine, and we see his internal struggle with whether to sign away his rights or not. I last saw Paul Dano in Ruby Sparks, and I didn't even recognize him in the role of grungy rocker, Joby Taylor. He also executive produced the film, and Kim changed the script to fit his age after seeing him audition, having initially wanted someone older. The role of Ellen's mother, Claire Taylor, is played by the wonderful Margarita Levieva (Amanda Clarke from Revenge). She has almost no screen time though, and only a few lines. Ellen is played by Shaylena Mandigo, a young actress with a subtle intensity, who seems wise beyond her years.For fans of Dano, this film is a must and to anyone in a hot climate looking to escape to the snowy landscapes of the Midwest (think Fargo - accents too) this will be an interesting escape, however bleak February in London, does call for something warmer.  For Ellen is out on February 15th at cinemas across the UK.

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