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