Directed by So Yong Kim
So Yong Kim has followed up her abandonment drama Treeless Mountain with a custody drama, starring Paul Dano as a rocker estranged from his wife and six-year-old kid. Kim’s focus shifts this time to an adult, Joby (Dano), a petulant frontman who has burned his band and the mother of his child one too many times. Fresh from a long drive in the barren Northeast winter that serves as emotional backdrop, Joby comes to sign a divorce agreement but ends up struggling to maintain contact with his daughter and haranguing his square lawyer (Jon Heder).
Dano’s routine of beleagured entitlement and incredulity serves the role well: wondering why people can’t just take care of shit, moping about, attitude fading, a hair’s breadth from total resignation. But Kim’s script demands a couple of fairly silly exercises of its lead—dinner at Heder’s mom’s, a cathartic rock-out at a bar—and Dano’s repertoire comes up short. When Joby’s self-possessed daughter comes back into the picture, it’s a chance for Kim to showcase again her fascination with the spontaneity of our littlest actors while failing to make the awkward reunion feel distinct from any other “what kind of toy does she like” estranged-parent reconnections you’ve seen.
Not that For Ellen should aspire to be Clean, Olivier Assayas's multilayered 2004 drama, but Kim’s film does seem to tank whenever striving for a particular effect or scene instead of the mood miniatures that fueled her freer In Between Days. That includes the barroom dance-by-myself, but also the ending, which reaches for a 70s vagrancy but feels more like a picturesque sidestep. Pegging the film resolutely to Dano, whose worried egg head and wan smile have tempted many an independent filmmaker into taking on his two-gear performances, might also be foolhardy. Gazing at Joby with her “patient” camera, Kim evokes the sense of a watched pot that never boils.
Opens September 5