Before her best actress Oscar nod for “Zero Dark Thirty,” Jessica Chastain starred in “Jolene,” a 2008 independent film based on an E.L. Doctorow short story. This was Chastain’s first acting gig in film, and she delivers.
She plays Jolene, a 15-year-old foster kid who’s about to walk down the aisle. Her age alone says “this isn’t gonna end well.”
She’s coerced into an affair with her much older uncle-in-law, played by Dermot Mulroney, who pulls off playing a creeper without missing a beat. They’re busted, of course, and after a stint in a juvenile psychiatric facility, Jolene is left to fend for herself. She hitchhikes and “sells it once or twice” to make her way to a new future.
Jolene transitions from shy teen to Vegas showgirl to churchgoing mother, and the one constant is she’s adaptable (maybe to her own detriment). Along the way, she meets a cast of characters — played by Frances Fisher, Rupert Friend, Chazz Palminteri and Michael Vartan — whose interactions affect the course of her life and her reinvention.
Chastain plays vulnerable and withdrawn with a ferocity that never crosses into melodramatic. (There will definitely be more Oscar noms in her future.) And director Dan Ireland tells Jolene’s story through concise voice-overs and solid pacing.
I’ve watched “Jolene” three or four times, and after each viewing, I feel enriched, liberated and surprisingly hopeful.
And that’s something worth watching.
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Starring: Jessica Chastain, Frances Fisher, Dermot Mulroney, Chazz Palminteri.
Director: Dan Ireland.
Available: Netflix streaming.