Has any film captured the lonely ennui of Middle America better than Nashville? I doubt it. But filmmakers will keep trying. And their various failures will win prizes at festivals, but that won’t make them great films.
40 Shades of Blue is also set amid the Tennessee music industry — but Ira Sachs’ Memphis is a world away from Altman’s Nashville. I’ll admit the comparison is probably unfair. One is a classic sprawling epic, the other a small film with meager aspirations. But watching 40 Shades, set in another tarnished music capital, I thought of Nashville and its effortless grandeur. Maybe because it succeeds in personifying a world I know nothing about — something this film fails to do.
Ira Sachs has made a remarkably soulless movie about the birthplace of soul. His long lens camera watches his Memphis characters like a peeping Tom -— as if we were hiding behind a potted plant at the awards banquet scene or crouched in the bedroom closet as lovers alternately fight or fuck.
There’s Laura, a reluctant Russian trophy wife, the emotionally frigid companion of a middle-aged music legend. Said legend is played by Rip Torn. And thank God for that. His portrayal of Alan, the grumbly, garrulous genius/asshole breathes life into the stillborn role. When his son Michael comes to visit, his sensitive schoolteacher schtick is the antithesis of Pop’s bull-in-a-china-shop routine. So Laura takes one look at him and… you get the picture. Complications ensue, but not much complexity. I felt bad for Torn’s character as his world collapsed around him. But I felt worse for Torn himself, stuck in this movie.
Opens September 28 at Film Forum