For Ellen, 2012, USA
For Ellen stars Paul Dano as Joby Taylor, a washed up musician who is in the midst of a nasty divorce with his wife, Cindy (Dakota Johnson). As part of the divorce settlement, Cindy asks Joby to give up custodial rights to his daughter, Ellen (Shaylena Mandigo), who he’s never met. Joby is devastated by this, and insists on spending the day with her before signing any sort of paperwork.
The film is very minimalist in nature. In fact, the first half of it is little more than a glimpse into Joby’s life. This gives the audience the opportunity to discover who he is as a person – and we’re not meant to like what we see. He’s selfish, has anger issues, and is so consumed by his dreams of becoming a rockstar that he’s given up any sort of relationship with his wife and daughter. He is, frankly, a pathetic human being. Dano gives a remarkable performance as Joby; he’s captivating, yet painful to watch. And, despite how much you loathe Joby for being selfish and overly consumed with something that will never happen, your heart breaks for him as you watch what a failure his life is. He’s lost everything over a failed dream. His performance was the highlight of the film. He’s in every scene, and the film is his story.
My issue with the film is that the first half of the film feels painfully long. Nothing much happens (as I said: it’s very minimalist), but what does happen fails to grab the audience. I never felt captivated by anything other than Dano’s performance. I enjoyed the time Joby and Ellen spent together – they were very bittersweet, but that was a comparably small part of the film. I felt that perhaps the film would have been stronger if that part of the story had been expanded, and the first half of the film was cut considerably.
I wish I’d liked this film as a whole more than I did. Dano is one of the more underrated actors out there, and he can always be counted on to give a fantastic performance. He was just wonderful in this film, and this film could have been great with a stronger script and editing. It is available to watch on Netflix.