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Starring Jessica Chastain, Frances Fisher, Rupert Friend, Dermot Mulroney, Denise Richards, Michael Vartan and Chazz Palminteri
Screenplay by Dennis Yares
Based on E. L. Doctorow's story "Jolene: A Life"
Directed by Dan Ireland

IN SHORT: Best of the Year #3.. [Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language, some violence and drug use. 115 minutes]

Documenting the years aged 15 to 25 of one Jolene (Jessica Chastain), a resident of foster homes her entire life who, at 15, marries to try to achieve some semblance of normal life. The fictional story of Jolene covers a lot of very difficult territory that, depending on your personal movie viewing preferences, will either rock your world or send you running for the exit thinking, Cranky gave this an Eight Dollar rating? [To you we hope that now you will read the entire review . . . to wit:

If you disdain the cineplex for the arthouse, you belong in the first category. If you have no stomach for adult drama that crosses a whole messa sexual lnes, you are in the second. If you fall into a middle ground, Jolene is one of those films that may break out of the confines of the arthouse and make it into the cineplex. It happens . . .

The aforementioned first husband, who is 20 to Jolene's 15 is Mickey (Zeb Bewnab). Mickey lives with, and works delivering fuel oil for, his Uncle Phil (Dermot Mulroney). Phil insists that Jolene call him "uncle" as well but his seemingly frigid banker wife, Kay (Theresa Russell), emphasizes that "I'm not your aunt". Kay treats her new niece-in-law as little more like a maid. It isn't long before Uncle becomes lover and the consequences are unfortunate.

We never reveal the end game to a film. We're not going to reveal those "unfortunate" consequences. We will report that Jolene's next stop on her decade of discover is behind bars. Labelled a "juvenile delinquent" Jolene makes a little bit of money drawing portraits of the other inmates -- her blossoming interest in art will carry her through the rest of the movie -- and finds a way out of lockup after she is seduced by a guard named Cindy (Frances Fisher). Cindy introduces "our hero" to the joys of cigarettes and lesbian encounters, eventually sneaking Jolene out of the complex. Cindy intends to keep Jolene as captive "wife." Jolene runs like hell the first chance she gets, working her way across the country and settling into a job as a waitress on roller skates at one of those classic drive-in diners. She catches the eye of tattoo artist Coco Leger (Rupert Friend) who offers her a job at his shop, trains her to tattoo -- that art talent, again -- and eventually becomes her second husband

Then Coco's other wife, Marin (Denise Richards), shows up with a baby. Jolene doesn't take too kindly to that and the consequences are, well, unfortunate.

Next stop, Las Vegas, where the only job available for a good looking very young woman is that of pole dancer / stripper. Jolene is so good at the gig that she catches the eye of a much older man, Sal Fontaine (Chazz Palminteri). Sal misses the glamor of the "old Vegas" and anybody but a sheltered girl like the title character would make assumptions about Sal's business background. A May/December romance ensues and Sal promises his new love that she will never want for anything for the rest of her life. He says it's been set up so she'll be fine once he meets his Maker.

Yeah, you know . . . consequences . . . unfortunate . . . and back to the bus and a stop in the Heartland city of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Jolene finds a couple of jobs to make her way, one of which is as a waitress for a party caterer. She catches the eye of one Brad Benton (Michael Vartan), whose family apparently owns half the city. Brad is smitten. Jolene isn't looking for love. Brad wants to know nothing of Jolene's past, though she tries to tell him. Brad's parents don't show for the wedding but they do run a background check when Jolene delivers a grandson.

You know that isn't going to be good. Consequences. Unfortunate. Next stop LA, a land where a pretty young thing can dream big. Of what she dreams, we won't say.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Jolene, he would have paid . . .


The simple truth on our part is that very few actresses can pull off this kind of a role. Jessica Chastain manages it better than any other unknown -- not that we have any list of unknown actresses to compare to. We're not dissing Ms. Chastain. Her role is one that mainly requires reaction, so we don't get to see a full range of acting prowess. On the plus side, we didn't want to get up and walk away from the film, one of the few we've had to review from a provided screener, That's a compliment to the actress. As for the rest of the film, hoo boy it's a difficult, but do-able sit.

The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.