“It all felt a bit flat.” Dano’s performance couldn’t redeem this film of its flaws, writes HANNAH QUINN.
For Ellen is difficult to get excited about. It’s sweet without being too cloying, bleak without being too depressing: definitely enjoyable, but all the same, a bit bland and forgettable. There’s some good acting and imaginative filming but ultimately it’s let down by an underdeveloped plot and lightly sketched characters.
So Yong Kim’s film follows a few days in the life of Joby Taylor, played by the new indie go-to guy for inept creative types, Paul Dano, here seen sporting an awful goatee and chipped black nail polish to play the mediocre musician. Joby goes to a small suburb in upstate New York to sign off on his divorce settlement but realises that he’s required to give up all custody of his six-year-old daughter, Ellen (the incredibly cute Shaylena Mandigo).
This is where the IMDB summary says he “fights” to gain custody, but I think fight is a bit too strong a word. He has a sudden realisation of his own failure, which leads to him meeting Ellen for pretty much the first time – cue the predictable buying of the wrong toy and losing her in a shopping mall. The dynamic between the two saves it from becoming too saccharine or cliched, though, and their parting was an incredibly poignant moment.
The real standout element of the film was Dano himself, giving a believable performance as the mumbling wannabe rock star. While Joby’s not a particularly sympathetic character, Dano imbues him with just enough vulnerability to make him pathetic rather than just annoying. Since the film focused entirely on him – I’m not sure there was a single scene he wasn’t in – it could never fail to be on some level enjoyable.
Whether he was having a touchingly awkward conversation with his estranged daughter or drunkenly performing a solo dance routine to his lawyer, Dano brought an impressive presence to the screen. Perhaps impressive is the wrong word for such an unprepossessing character, but you get the idea. He was impressively unimpressive.
One problem Dano couldn’t fix was the pace. It’s a very slow moving film. While this can work brilliantly, allowing for a minute focus on character development, here it just feels… slow. The lack of any character development or backstory makes it difficult to really love this film and at just over 90 minutes, a slow start isn’t really something you can get away with.
For Ellen isn’t as predictable as it at first appears, but like Dano’s monotone drawl, it all felt a bit flat: sweet as it this film was, it was missing the spark that would have really brought it to life.