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Blue Car (2003)

September 22nd, 2007 · No Comments

“Miramax is brilliant at publicizing its successes, but it’s even more brilliant at burying its failures,” said Dennis Rice, their former president of marketing. Miramax Films was notorious for test screening its movies – often in malls in New Jersey – and barely releasing the ones that scored poorly. Some went straight to video, even those with major stars. Here’s a look at some of the studio’s B-sides, bombs and greatest misses.

Blue Car poster.jpg

Synopsis
18-year-old Meg Denning (Agnes Bruckner) and her despondent 10-year-old sister Lily (Regan Arnold) are left by their father to live with their overworked mother (Margaret Colin) in an apartment in Ohio. Meg’s creative writing teacher Mr. Auster (David Strathairn) is impressed by her work and urges Meg to enter a school poetry competition. She tells him, “I’m not a poet.” He responds that she isn’t yet and offers to help her during lunch period.

Borrowing her mother’s blouse and jewelry, Meg goes to see Mr. Auster. He won a writing award once, and is supposedly working on a novel, but doesn’t seem to have written much since the death of his son. Auster has Meg map her “nerve centers,” which prompts her to write about being left by her father. Her poem “Blue Car” wins the contest, earning her a place at a national competition in Florida.

Financial trouble at home forces Meg to steal from her employer, then pawn her mother’s jewelry in order to get to Florida. She sleeps on the beach, and after spending the day with Mr. Auster and his manic depressive wife (Frances Fisher), ends up alone in a motel room with him the night before the competition. The experience is not a pleasant one, but Meg draws from it in an unexpected way.

Blue Car pic 1.jpg

Production history 
As an actress, Karen Moncrieff appeared on the soaps The Bold and the Beautiful and Santa Barbara. Working in bad TV for ten years demystified the directing process for her. She took classes in photography and editing at Los Angeles City College, and after shooting several shorts on Super 8mm, was able to attract financing on the strength of her feature length script Blue Car.

Shot in 18 days around Dayton, Ohio and Oxnard, California on a budget of $400,000, Blue Car was screened at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2002. Miramax quickly bought the distribution rights and set a release for November of that year. The studio dithered over whether to build a buzz for the film, or send it straight to DVD. In May 2003, it was snuck into release on less than 30 screens and quickly disappeared.

Opinion 
The plot summary probably makes the film sound like teenage poetry, melancholy and earnest. If Moncrieff had lots of money and no talent, her film might have turned out just as poorly. But Blue Car is the best movie I’ve seen directed by a woman since Eve’s Bayou in 1997. It ranks among the most promising directorial debuts in recent memory by a director of either gender.

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I’ve gotten to where I either like or dislike a movie after about five seconds. I’ve heard people say the same about blind dating. If the mood or energy of the opening shot turns me off, if the music sucks, or the credits are too obtrusive, I very rarely fall in love with the film later on, or want to order dessert. Blue Car has a restrained, handmade aesthetic to it that really drew me in.

The script avoids melodramatic framing, where everything plays out in the open. The dialogue is sparse. The way Meg communicates with adults rang true for me; it’s understated, not cute. The running time is only 88 minutes. Instead of piling on plot developments, Moncrieff progresses the story across the faces and body language of her actors. Agnes Bruckner and Regan Arnold are inspired casting choices in this, as is the great David Strathairn.

Director of photography Rob Sweeney and composer Adam Gorgoni give the film a ragged feeling evocative of characters on the edge. It’s not an ambitious movie, but it felt real. Moncrieff – who has drawn comparisons to John Sayles – followed this up with The Dead Girl, a multi-arc drama starring Toni Collette, Brittany Murphy and Giovanni Ribisi. It had an even quieter opening in December 2006, but Moncrieff is a filmmaker to watch.

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“The dialogue supplied by Moncrieff is incredibly realistic, and Bruckner has clearly embraced this character and given a performance of magnificent depth,” writes Richard Propes at The Peaceful Critic.

Jesse Hassenger at Filmcritic.com writes, “There is a listlessness about Blue Car that makes the movie seem to move slower than it does. Moncrieff understands the value of economy in a screenplay … but realistic minimalism isn’t always interesting to watch.”

“In the end, a very poignant slice of life film that gives us just enough moments of moving drama and believable motivations to make a lasting impression,” writes Vince Leo at QWipster’s Movie Reviews.

© Joe Valdez

Tags: Coming of age · High school · Master and pupil · Mother/daughter relationship · Road trip

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