Your average dysfunction
For Ellen director So Yong Kim (previously of Treeless Mountain) takes her sweet time introducing us to the character and life of Joby Taylor (Paul Dano), who has failed at just about everything he sets his undecided mind to – a career in rock music, marriage, parenthood – in a movie that shows us a real process, not some gung-ho version of the American dream.
In front of the camera, the success is largely Dano’s.
His performance as an individual working through flaws from the inside conveys both a studied looseness and subliminal anxiety. Under So Yong’s directorship, the language of ineffectuality, silence and hiatus stays as muted as the snow-covered landscape through which Joby, unsuitably underdressed in Gothic rock-star black, heads north to upstate New York to negotiate custody rights versus money with his estranged wife.
The movie’s structure, setting up a series of awkward encounters with a new lover, his lawyer, his wife and her new partner, and above all, his six-year old daughter Ellen (Shaylena Mandigo), is doubtless strategic but is poetically and organically rendered with great sensitivity: there’s little plot and no significant ending but these are both bonuses in a film that shows, albeit lengthily, how processes turn into turning points. As a portrait of dysfunctionality, it’s perhaps overly true to the everyday but all the more convincing for it.
For Ellen | Directed by So Yong Kim (USA 2012), with Paul Dano, Shaylena Mandigo. Starts January 3