Sundance Journal: ‘For Ellen’

Despite being slow and indulgent, ‘For Ellen’ is one of those small films that grows stronger after you give it some thought. At first, it may make you stir crazy and leave you wanting more, but after reflecting on it, you’re sure to find the beauty in this methodically intimate and personal story.

Paul Dano plays our lead character, Joby, a fading rock star. As the creator, lead singer and frontman of a one-hit-wonder band that seems to be declining, Joby’s career and dream are slipping away from him. At the same time, he and his separated wife are at odds. Joby hasn’t even met his daughter yet. He’s losing everything that used to be stable and highly desirable to him – no matter how hard he tries to keep it around.

The entire film revolves around Joby’s travels to finalize the divorce with his soon-to-be ex-wife. With everything falling apart, all he wants to do is meet and spend time with his daughter – someone so young and innocent that the harshness of life hasn’t yet tainted her.

At first, each scene seems a little pointless. We see Joby go to dinner with his lawyer (Jon Heder), we see them drinking at a bar, we see a drunken Joby lip-sync a jukebox rock song and give a performance that only a rock star can deliver. These long and often single-take scenes may appear meaningless, but as you think about their purposes, you’ll realize that each allows you to see Joby’s inner state of mind and the emotional turmoil that he’s experiencing. Words can’t convey these powerful emotions, but watching these scenes can.

The first half of the film is slower than the second, but don’t think that it’s not worth watching. The slow-building climax of the film is beautiful and poignant, which makes the journey worth taking. And as always, Dano gives another fantastic performance.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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