Bastard Out of Carolina (1996)
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The quality of the acting is patchy. Lyle Lovett's delivery of his few lines of dialogue is very wooden compared to Michael Rooker's excellent portrayal of gentle giant Earl. Jena Malone does a brilliant job in obviously difficult circumstances as young Bone. The look in her eyes breaks your heart whenever things are about to turn violent, making you want to rescue her yourself. Jennifer Jason Leigh is fine as Bone's mother but you feel like you never really get to see beneath the surface of her determined expression to understand her motives for standing by her man in the face of Glen's obvious resentment of her daughter.
Ron Eldard is excellent in his depiction Glen, expertly capturing the character's pathetic childishness behind those icy blue eyes. Eldard often seems to play characters with a dark side and this role plays to his strengths, even if his southern accent slips from time to time. His scenes of violence with Bone are harrowing to watch and you can't help but feel uncomfortable, given the age of Jena Malone at the time. I know it's 'only acting' but the scenes are very realistic and graphic for a young actress to endure.
The film is one that ought to be shown to any single mother tempted to jump into a relationship with a hot-headed young man with questionable intentions.
Anjelica Huston is the director and this is her first attempt at directing a feature length movie. The results are stunning. It is altogether a flawless movie, with an excellent script based on the Dorothy Allison novel, and stars Jena Malone as the young protagonist. Jennifer Jason Leigh is in the tough role of the mother torn between the choices she faces in loving both her daughter and the abusive stepfather. Many times throughout the movie I sat on the edge of my seat stunned by the action happening onscreen. It is not a movie with pat answers and predictable solutions, but manages to show the complexities involved in each situation. There are no cardboard characters either, as in real life not everyone is totally good or evil, though their actions may dip into either category from time to time.
The most compelling performance, in a film loaded with excellent acting, comes from young Malone, who commands a role that many adult actresses would no doubt have trouble handling. Her face tells a thousand stories with each shot giving a multi-leveled meaning to the deeper motivations that lie within her character.
After the credits Glenne Headly provides further information about the subject and a child abuse hotline number, which is a great addition to a film of this sort. It is not "entertainment" per se, but more along the lines of an informational public service. The symptoms of child abuse are highlighted throughout the movie and the effect of everyone's participation documented as fair warning to the viewer.
I can't praise this movie enough. A film like this raises my awareness and compassion level and makes me want to reach out to help in any way I can. It exceeds expectations in just about every way imaginable.
When she was little Bones' own daddy swings her around and around in a beautiful scene by a lake. There are sparkles on the water and in her eyes. But tragedy takes her daddy away, and for, what must have been a few years, she sits in the back of her car cuddling her little sister and waiting for her mother to get off shift at the cafe she worked at. Her mom gets married to a man who is pathetic, and at the same time angry, violent and ultimately a monster of cruelty to little Bones. Early on, he sexually abuses her in the car as they wait outside the hospital for her mother to give birth. Jena Malone played her part to perfection. Her pain, crooked smile, perfect cracker accent, defiance and fear drilled itself into my heart. I could feel her hopelessness and at the same time the flashes of joy when she was free to sing, as well as the love and protection she felt for her little sister.
The relationships between the characters were fully developed. While I cheered when Bones' stepfather was beat up, I still had a hard time hating him as much as I should. Bones' mother, although a sympathetic character who loved her babies, I may not forgive, at least from the time she carried Bones out of the hospital.
Altogether a ten star movie.
All in all, a great film. *****/out of 5
I know Eldard from his role on the cancelled sitcom "Men Behaving Badly" and his supporting roles in films like "Sleepers" and "The Last Supper." Prior to this movie, I would've never envisioned him in this sort of role, as I didn't really think of him as a daring, intense actor. I would envision an actor like Ray Liotta or James Woods in this sort of role. But I think Eldard's apparent naivete really gives dimension to this role. He doesn't in any way appear like someone who would act abusive towards anyone, as it usually turns out in real life. He also plays the character with a certain charm, which gives us some insight into why Leigh decided to stay with him. Of course, he never gets a handle on the Carolina accent (at times even sounding like an Englishman, as he struggles so hard), but as I got more and more into the film, I barely paid attention to the flaws in his accent. After watching this film, I will definitely look at Eldard much differently, as much more than the fun-loving buddy of Rob Schneider on "Men Behaving Badly" (a show I used to watch pretty frequently).
The cast is also composed of fine character actors, like Glenne Headley and Michael Rooker--who's absolutely terrific as Leigh's short-fused brother. Of course, that isn't an unusual role for him, but he plays it very well and packs a great dramatic punch in this performance especially. Jena Malone shows why she grew up to star in big films like "Stepmom" and "For Love of the Game." Even at this age, she is fully convincing as a tortured young girl. I just kept on wondering what the director gave her as motivation for her different emotions, since I'm guessing they couldn't outwardly address the issues or rape and abuse to a girl of her age.
The film contains some of the most disturbing scenes in American cinema (I stress the word "American," because I've seen more graphic rape scenes in foreign films like "The Bandit Queen" and "Pixote"), so even those with stomachs of steel should beware. But how many films you watch really get you talking and thinking, and send you an emotional journey--without using cheap shots? I don't have A.D.D. or anything, but rarely do I get so lost in a film that my attention never drifts and I never take time to look at my watch. This is one of those rare powerful, touching films that I will never forget!
My score: 9 (out of 10)
One wishes that those who made hay about the brutal child-rape scene in this film would devote this energy to protesting the actual occurrence of such things. The graphic nature of this scene was disturbing, to be sure, but not gratuitous or exploitative.
A worthwhile rendering of Dorothy Allison's semi-autobiographical novel.
Angelica Huston did a wonderful job as director by keeping the scenes realistic (I know I was yelling at the T.V. in Spanish and English). The actress who portrayed Boone (sorry I forgot her name) did an amazing job at bringing life into that character. She evoked sympathy from the audience and made you want to just save her from her misery. The actor who played her abusive step-father did an excellent job at portraying a monster. My favorite part was when all of Bone's uncles beat up the step-father at her aunt's funeral!
Overall, I gave this movie an 8/10.
If your gonna watch this be prepared to go through a cycle of emotions, pretty much all of them-don't forget the box of tissues!
Angelica Huston is the rare child of the film business who really does have talent. That talent, a cinematic poise and a grand frame destined her to be somebody important. But her work has been infrequent and often quirky.
One imagines that life is difficult for people whose future is thrust upon them by their father, not by his will but by his unintended, marginally controlled passion.
So what we end up with is straight ahead hard stuff developed in a straight ahead hard stuff manner, without art in the narrative, the blocking, the cinematography -- just as if it were done by the characters.
All is invested in the three leads, their passion and emotions. They do well enough, but since there is no environmental support, each is a solo. Malone is the noticable one because of her age, but I think the real star here is Ms Leigh because she is the only one with an inner drama. The others can relax into single dimensions.
I gave this film a high rating simply because of the cast. Michael Rooker, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jena Malone, Christina Ricci... that already has me in 100% no matter what the film is.
But, of course, this is also a really good movie. I hear it is controversial and some places had it banned and others have called for the director to be arrested. Maybe I didn't see the same film you did, because the one I saw was a realistic condemnation of child abuse, and that should be applauded.
The performance's by the whole cast is excellent and I congratulate Angelica Houston for bringing this 'swept under the carpet" subject out into the open where it belongs.
VERY disturbing but well-done movie. The actors all fake authentic Southern accents and it captures the era perfectly. The acting is just incredible. Leigh was just letter perfect as the mother. She does love her girls and her husband and is horrified when she realizes what's going on. Eldard was a little one-note in his performance but that was mostly cause the script didn't really explore his character. He was downright terrifying when he loses control a few times. Malone was only 10 when she did this and she was incredible! VERY talented for such a young child and holds her own especially in downright horrific sequence at the end. Even the supporting roles were well-acted with Michael Rooker and Glenne Headly being standouts. Also it's all narrated by Laura Dern. As for the beatings--they're never really shown until the very end. You HEAR them though and that's bad enough. The acting is so good by Malone and Eldard you believe every second of them.
One complaint--the movie feels unfinished. It looks like either a lot was cut out of the script or out of the movie. Some scenes come and go quickly and have characters you've never met. Still this is well worth watching...but it is disturbing (as it should be) and powerful.