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Movie Review

Tennessee

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Tennessee
It's not a good sign when a film's daytime scenes look as if they've been shot in twilight. Nor is it reassuring when the dialogue features long gaps—as though silence equals depth. Both flaws are prevalent in this film, telling the audience that the stage has been set for a "serious" film, which recounts the evolving relationships between Carter Armstrong (Adam Rothenberg) and his brother, Ellis (Ethan Peck), who is dying of acute leukemia.

Years earlier, Carter had rescued Ellis and their mother (who has since died) from an abusive father in Tennessee and fled with them to New Mexico. The brothers are now returning home in search of dad, in the hope he might be a bone marrow match for Ellis. Along the way, the siblings pick up a waitress (Mariah Carey) determined to escape her brutalizing husband (Lance Reddick) and pursue her dream of a singing-songwriting career in Nashville.

Despite the story's marked limitations, the film has intriguing elements—largely the appealing actors, who give sensitive performances. Most impressive is the deep affection evident between the brothers. Rothenberg does a particularly nice job as a highly moral man in inner turmoil. Though he has no regrets about saving his brother and late mother, he cannot escape his own anger and pain at the losses he has sustained. Peck is also completely believable as the kid brother whose innocent, youthful exterior belies a mature understanding of family dynamics and the profound nature of Carter's sacrifice. Undoubtedly, many viewers may be curious to see how Carey performs in this, particularly after the punch line that was Glitter. The answer is: not bad. Deglamorized to the point of barely being recognizable, Carey fully evokes a beleaguered working-class wife on the run. Still, the most interesting actor here is Reddick as a violently possessive spouse who has a change of heart. With lesser actors, any one of these characters—their responses and evolutions—could easily become implausible. The film also successfully captures the literal and metaphorical landscape of the most primitive of the rural poor.

Otherwise, whether because of subject matter, its treatment, or both, Tennessee is more than a little tedious, its good qualities notwithstanding.

Genre: Drama. Written by:
Russell Schaumburg. Directed by: Aaron Woodley. Starring: Adam Rothenberg, Ethan Peck, Mariah Carey, Lance Reddick.

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