Op­ti­mist prime

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images - Jonathan Richards For The New Mex­i­can

Ichar­ac­ter study, rated R, CCA Cine­math­eque, 3 chiles Like a cork in a choppy, pol­luted har­bor, Jo­lene keeps get­ting sucked un­der and bob­bing up to the sur­face again, soiled but buoy­ant. Life deals her killer blows, but each time she takes the punch, ab­sorbs it, and shrugs it off with the same lop­sided grin of op­ti­mism on her pretty freck­led face.

That Jo­lene is able to do this, and we are able to care, is due in no small mea­sure to the ra­di­ance of new­comer Jes­sica Chas­tain, a red-headed bun­dle of tal­ent who won the Best Ac­tress Award in 2008 at the Seat­tle Film Fes­ti­val for her big-screen de­but in this ve­hi­cle.

Jo­lene was di­rected by Dan Ire­land, with a screen­play by Den­nis Yares (son of Santa Fe gallery owner Riva Yares, who pro­duced), adapted from an E.L. Doc­torow short story that caught Riva Yares’ at­ten­tion when it ap­peared in 2002 in The New Yorker.

The dodge used by Yares to ad­vance the story is the voice-over nar­ra­tion de­vice, which tells Jo­lene’s tale look­ing back from a more ma­ture present to its open­ing chap­ter in a teenage mar­riage. That per­spec­tive doesn’t pro­vide much rue­ful self-aware­ness; Jo­lene tells her story with the re­silient op­ti­mism of a Can­dide, or per­haps more ap­pro­pri­ately Can­dide’s erotic 20th-cen­tury off­spring, Terry South­ern’s Candy.

At stop af­ter stop on her peri­patetic jour­ney, Jo­lene ex­pe­ri­ences rav­ish­ment, re­jec­tion, and re­bound. Fol­low­ing the demise of her first mar­riage, in which the knot is tied on the eve of her 16th birth­day and un­tied a few months later af­ter a com­pli­ca­tion in­volv­ing her hus­band’s un­cle Phil (Der­mot Mul­roney), Jo­lene is in­car­cer­ated in a fa­cil­ity for emo­tion­ally un­sta­ble ju­ve­niles. She es­capes with the help of a kindly — per­haps too kindly — guard, ren­dered with lovely hu­man­ity by Frances Fisher.

Each sta­tion on Jo­lene’s erotic un­der­ground rail­way ar­guably lifts her a lit­tle bit fur­ther along the road to suc­cess, but these are painfully small, slow steps that ex­act a heavy price. The ju­ve­nile

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