INDIEWATCH: Chastain a tour de force in ‘Jolene’

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.

Chastain, Rupert Friend.

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Chastain plays vulnerable and withdrawn with a ferocity that never crosses into melodramatic.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.

Like Jolene.

And that’s something worth watching.

Grade: B

IndieWatch is a weekly review of independent film and documentaries.

“Jolene”
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Frances Fisher, Dermot Mulroney, Chazz Palminteri.
Director: Dan Ireland.
Time: 2:01.
Available: Netflix streaming.

2 thoughts on “INDIEWATCH: Chastain a tour de force in ‘Jolene’

  1. Hi Melinda:

    I so look forward to watching the reviews you do with that young man on my Grand Forks Herald website. You are always upbeat, and happy, and the excitement you feel is contagious. You also have the worlds prettiest smile. Thank you, and keep up the good work! Rick

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