See it because its lead actress, Jessica Chastain, delivers a knockout performance that earned her roles in several high-profile projects to come. There’s even early Oscar talk surrounding her work in Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” so the star-in-the-making must be the real deal (which she is).
Based on a short story by E.L. Doctorow (“Ragtime,” “Billy Bathgate”), Dan Ireland’s drama chronicles 10 full, fallible years in the hard-knock life of Jolene, a redheaded orphan who escapes — or so she believes — sexual abuse by marrying well-meaning doofus Mickey (Zeb Newman, in his feature debut). He’s 20; she’s 15; they live with his leering Uncle Phil (Dermot Mulroney), married to a shrew of an unpleasant woman (Theresa Russell).
That doesn’t last long. Nor Jolene’s stay in a mental ward, a lesbian affair, a marriage to a tattoo artist (Rupert Friend, “The Young Victoria,” channeling a mix of Johnny Depp and Russell Brand), being a kept mistress of a Vegas bigwig (Chazz Palminteri) and several other situations, including out-of-necessity stints as a stripper and a prostitute. Can she finally find happiness with an oil-wealthy Tulsan (Michael Vartan, TV’s “Alias”)? Don’t answer too quickly.
With Jolene suffering a tragedy between each broken heart, the film sounds like the stuff of a week of Lifetime movies. Ireland’s script is smarter than that, even if his work feels episodic, with characters entering for a stretch and then exiting for good. But it allows Jolene to fine-tune her true identity as she tries on many figurative hats, and thus, allows Chastain to develop a character that grows before our very eyes, from naive to nurturing to determined.
The movie is good. Chastain is astounding. —Rod Lott