My favorite parts of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button were small moments—time spent listening to a friend’s stories late at night or reciting Shakespeare in the kitchen—that formed Ben’s relationships, crafting the tapestry of humanity the film punctuates with its closing character panorama. This seems the goal of Olivier Dahan’s new film, My Own Love Song, which follows crippled singer/songwriter Jane Wyatt (Renee Zellweger) and her schizophrenic friend Joey (Forest Whitaker) on a cross-country trip where they encounter several colorful characters. There is no conflict, there is no real plot established—quirky antics aside, little happens outside of the couple making new friends. Unfortunately, unlike Benjamin Button, which took the time to fully flesh-out the relationships between its characters, Love Song tosses people in and out willy-nilly with little payoff, and since this was the film’s ultimate focus, leaves its audience wondering what the point was.
Within its first ten minutes, Love Song exposes its characters’ primary flaws; Jane gave up on life after an accident took her husband’s life, paralyzed her from the waist down, and drove her child into the arms of foster parents, and Joey is a schizophrenic that lies in peoples’ yards staring at imaginary jellyfish circling the moon. After being imprisoned for breaking into and wrecking Jane’s home, Joey escapes, breaks back into the house, cleans everything up, then convinces Jane to go on a cross-country fugitive tour with him. All of this happens so quickly and with such ease that its hardly believable, exposing the film’s reliance on quirky charm rather than legitimate concern for its characters’ safety; neither Joey or Jane are ever threatened by capture or legal prosecution. The entire setup is necessary to spur forth the characters’ growth, but after five minutes of journeying both the audience and on-screen characters have forgotten why they’re running or where they’re going.
Along the way we’re introduced to a cast of zany, unbelievable characters, like a car salesman who’s forgotten how to love, a young girl named Billie whose husband ran away for reasons entirely unclear, and a fugitive guitarist (Nick Nolte) who hides in barns and tells folktales of musician’s devils. Rather than grounding any of these characters with a sense of reality, each is defined by their quirk then forgotten about; the biggest reaction any character receives is the fugitive guitarist, and that’s because of Nick Nolte’s notorious past rather than anything in the script. It’s a dramatis personae of people trying too hard to endear themselves, ultimately repeling audiences instead. Nolte and Zellwegger’s embarrasing cover of “This land is your land” serves as a microcosm for all the relationships in this film; though well-intended, it all comes across as generic and awful.
Love Song’s single achievement is its artistic direction; while the narrative is a wandering secondary mess and characters are left hollow shells of annoying quirks, beautiful southwest hillsides are infused with Dahan’s unique artistic vision; sparkles of light drift through the background unnoticed, huge animated birds peck their way through a New Orleans ghetto, and mystical creatures float through the night sky. If this film is anything, its (occassionally) beautiful to watch. Unfortunately, that’s about all that it is; though the cast puts their best foot forward, the material they’re given is too little and stupid to do anything with.