Sundance London 2012: ‘For Ellen’ undone by its own pervasive awkwardness

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For Ellen
Written by So Yong Kim
Directed by So Yong Kim
USA, 2012

So Yong Kim’s For Ellen contains a lot of promise – it has a young and talented cast, and boasts an intriguing plot. The film follows struggling musician Joby, who is on the brink of divorcing his wife.  Even though he has not really been close to his young daughter, he discovers that his custody rights to her are at risk and tries to arrange a meeting with her, in the hope that it is not too late to be a father.

Executive producer and lead actor Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood, Little Miss Sunshine) puts in a credible performance as Joby.  He doesn’t have much to do than appear awkward – perhaps he is destined to be one of life’s loners, as his character struggles to connect with anyone. However, Dano captures the lost boy look very well and shows a conviction in trying to oversee the different aspects in his life – especially his musical career. Napoleon Dynamite‘s Jon Heder is equally awkward as Joby’s attorney – effectively playing the ‘socially awkward’ persona, you can see him as a confidante or even an outlet as the only person really involved with him.  His struggle to get a picture of his client’s feelings is evident if not painful to watch.

The emotional struggle for Joby to reconnect with Ellen presents some difficult scenes as the unfamiliarity is obvious.  Their interactions start off as uncomfortable before progressing into a touching scene of closure between the two characters.

Writer and director So Yong Kim focuses the film in a snow-covered East Coast, which echoes the uncomfortably long silences and closed conversations between the cast.  There is a never-ending feeling of being lost and a sense of sadness throughout the film, and unfortunately, the performances of Dano and Mandiga in particular cannot save For Ellen from its constantly slow pace and agonizing lulls.

Katie Wong

The 26th-29th April sees the Sundance London Film and Music festival hit the O2 Arena, which sees the festival – renowned for its programme of independent film – take place in the UK for the first time in its 34-year history.


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