Renée Zellweger is Jane, a former country singer who has lost the will to live since an accident left her in a wheelchair. Forest Whitaker is Joey, who can talk to angels and ghosts since he witnessed the death by fire of his family. These two wounded souls bond and bicker, and when Joey finds a letter from Jane’s son, whom she gave up for adoption years ago, he decides that she must see him. Fortunately, there’s a talk being given in New Orleans by a man who is apparently an expert on communication with angels, so that gives Joey a reason-slash-pretext to drag Jane on a cross-country trip she wouldn’t agree to otherwise.
And so off we go, on yet another road trip discovery of America, this time filtered through the eyes of French writer/director Olivier Dahan (La Vie en Rose). As expected, it’s all very picaresque, with plenty of strange and quirky encounters along the way – Elias Koteas working the sleaze as the man who sells our protagonists an exploding car (and who is emotionally crippled, by his own admission – Symbolism!), Nick Nolte hamming it up as a musical hermit who trots out the old Robert-Johnson-sold-his-soul-for-music chestnut one more time, and so on. Zelwegger’s performance is serious of purpose, but she is done no favours by the voice-over she is saddled with, which babbles poetically on about this and that and is just as pretentious and annoying as Terrence Malick’s excesses in this department. Whitaker, meanwhile, takes his patented sensitive-with-tics shtick to some pretty zany heights. Despite some striking visuals (and sometimes because of the same), this is a pretty silly effort that occasionally rises to entertaining levels of camp, but more often just sets the eyes rolling.
The night scenes are quite rich, with strong blacks and colours, and a deep, warm look to the cinematography. The image is good during the day, too, but some scenes (notably an early on at a lakeside) have a look that veers a little between the naturalistic and the washed out. Still, the detail is sharp, and there is no troublesome grain. The image is 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen.
A solid 5.1 on offer here. The dialogue is clear, and the surround effects are low-key, but present enough to provide some auditory interest. The music is handled well, and this will be good news for Bob Dylan fans, since the man turned in a raft of original songs and instrumental pieces for the film. The mix isn’t exciting, exactly, but it isn’t really trying to be, either.
“Some journeys take a road you never expect,” quoth the box. Well, there are some new sights here, but there are also plenty of roads we have journeyed down before. A weak Hollywood debut for Dahan.