Friday, February 17, 2012


I have to admit that I have never read anything by the famous American author E. L. Doctorow.  His is one of those names I know but about whom I know little to nothing.  After watching Jolene, based on one of Doctorow's stories, I don't really want to read anything of his.

Poor Jolene.  An orphan raised in, and serially abused in, foster homes, she finds someone to marry her at 16, seeing her way out of her hopeless life.  She shortly makes things worse for herself, going through a series of hard times and relationships that begin ideally and end in horrible circumstances.  If there's something to be gained from this film, it's a positive message that we are not defined by our past but by our hope for better things.  But Jolene takes an ugly path to get there.
Flattery will get you everywhere with Jolene.
Especially troubling is the last relationship depicted in the movie.  She meets a young man who is the only son of Tulsa's leading family.  A caricatured evangelical, he declares that the Lord sent her to him and inquires whether she is saved, all on their first date.  Jolene tries to put him off when he asks her to marry him, but he declares his love for her no matter her past, and again affirms that the Lord meant them to be together.  When he turns out to be an abusive, critical husband who in fact cares very much about her checkered history, the viewer is supposed not to be surprised by his hypocrisy.  This treatment is in stark contrast to the Vegas bookie who treats her like a queen.  Does Mr. Doctorow really see Christianity solely as the realm of hypocrites?  Or do some of his other stories give a more balanced, realistic view of life?  It's just troubling for me to see such depictions, especially since it seems like an anti-Christian raises a writer up a notch as more enlightened.

Good for Jolene for pressing on in spite of the repeated bad hands she's dealt.  Bad for Doctorow for demeaning the greatest source of hope she might have found.

Bottom line, 2 stars.

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