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Come Early Morning (2006)

November 27th, 2007 · 4 Comments

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Lucy Fowler (Ashley Judd) wakes up in a Little Rock motel room next to a stranger. She insists the motel manager let her pay the bill, catches a cab back to the bar and climbing into her F-150 pickup truck, begins her day. Lucy’s housemate (Laura Prepon) doesn’t understand or approve of Lucy’s social activities. She visits her painfully withdrawn dad Lowell (Scott Wilson), then her aunt (Diane Ladd) who bickers incessantly with her husband of 50 years.

Saturday night is spent at her favorite bar, The Forge. An ex-girlfriend of her dad’s gets out of line and Lucy punches the floozy in the face. A stranger named Cal Percell (Jeffrey Donovan) attempts to render some aid before she tells him to fuck off. Lucy strains to establish some type of relationship with her guitar playing father, even going to church with him. When Cal and Lucy meet again, he asks her for her number.

Despite Kim’s pleas that she not sleep with the guy, Lucy and Cal get drunk and do just that. In the morning, she pulls her usual stunt and tries to get as far away from him as possible. She feels guilty about it later, and returns. Cal – a motor enthusiast who’s moved from Kentucky to do some roofing for his uncle – proves more sensitive than her average conquest, but her absentee relationship with her father keeps Lucy repeating the mistakes of her past.

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Production history 
Born and raised in North Little Rock, Joey Lauren Adams joined the cast of Dazed and Confused at age 24. While filming in Austin, Texas, Adams became determined to make her fortune as a movie star so she could get out of L.A. and come home. She was cast as the female lead in Chasing Amy, earning a Golden Globe nomination and landing on movie posters for the first time, but quality acting roles failed to follow.

To keep her spirits up, Adams started writing. Her script – originally titled Lovin’ Up A Storm, after a Jerry Lee Lewis tune – was about a girl from Arkansas whose life subsided on old country music, beer drinking and one night stands. Adams intended to play the lead role. She had no ambition to direct, but the only filmmakers who expressed interest in her project were from music videos. Adams made the decision to direct her own script.

After struggling for five years to obtain financing with herself in the lead, Adams and producer Julie Yorn got the script to Ashley Judd at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2005. Judd committed to star immediately and $6 million in financing began to materialize. Judd’s schedule gave Adams only five weeks to prep her film, which she had rewritten as Come Early Morning, titled after a Don Williams ballad.

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Adams’ primary influences were Tender Mercies for the mood, and Urban Cowboy for the fact that the characters weren’t the typical Southern caricatures. Shot in and around Little Rock in the spring of 2005, the film was released by distributor Roadside Attractions in November 2006. It drew some appreciative reviews, but grossed a mere $120,000 in the U.S.

The movie avoids serving up the usual cliches when it comes to portraying the South on film. The problem is that Adams also avoids telling a story or creating characters with all that much depth to them. Come Early Morning is remarkably average as a stand-alone movie, but when taken as a debut film, demo reel, or stepladder to bigger and better things, I did admire it.

The art design by Max Biscoe and cinematography by Tim Orr (who shot George Washington and All The Real Girls for David Gordon Green) are exemplary. You couldn’t ask for a more luscious looking debut. Adams doesn’t provide much in the way of compelling written material; characters played by Diane Ladd, Tim Blake Nelson and Stacy Keach are cul-de-sacs. But Adams has a good eye for staging, and after so many plastic roles, it’s a pleasure to see Ashley Judd assay a real woman again.

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Eric D. Snider writes, “I think Judd’s performance in Come Early Morning is probably the best of her career … Its story of a woman’s quest for personal fulfillment is not new, and it’s told in a perfunctory manner, complete with the backslide/relapse at the end of the second act. The performances are admirable all around, but they’re in the service of a film that doesn’t otherwise merit much attention.” He grades it a C+.

“The film is close (sometimes, a bit too close) to Ashley’s debut film Ruby In Paradise. Small town girl, trying to find her way in life, etc. It isn’t quite at the level of a Nunez film, but Adams does a very nice job with it … Judd gives her most believable performance since those early days,” writes Jim Magovern at Talking Moviezzz.

Kerry Birmingham at DVD Verdict writes, “Come Early Morning is not a romance, nor is it a Lifetime Channel original movie, though it has elements of both of those things. What separates it from those things is its aura of discomfort; its raw refusal to settle for easy outcomes and pat resolutions. It’s not a perfect drama, and often not even an entertaining one, but it comes loaded with the grit and passion of a cast and crew with something to prove.”

© Joe Valdez

Tags: Drunk scene · Father/daughter relationship · Small town

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Moviezzz // Nov 27, 2007 at 7:13 pm

    I was going to say how I liked the film, but then you ended up quoting me. Thanks.

    It was good to see Ashley get a chance to act again, after her more mainstream films. RUBY IN PARADISE is still one of my favorites.

  • 2 Marilyn // Dec 3, 2007 at 9:58 am

    I really don’t think this film is nearly as sketchy and skin deep as you do. I really related to Lucy and both her professional competence and social distrust. With her own family ties pretty loose, Lucy’s instinct for finding friends and mentors to help her grow up was dead on. The film isn’t about a story, it’s about a process of learning what to ask–and jsut how much you can expect–from life and the people around you.

  • 3 Joe Valdez // Dec 3, 2007 at 12:59 pm

    Jim: I haven’t seen Ruby In Paradise since it was released. I know Nunez also directed Peter Fonda to an Oscar nomination in Ulee’s Gold but am not aware of anything else he’d made. Thanks for reminding me I need to watch both of those films again.

    Marilyn: For me, a great film needs to tell a story. My problem with a lot of female directors is that they seem to favor an approach that reflects moments or emotional snapshots rather than a compelling narrative.

    It is possible to write a movie that’s emotionally resonant and well crafted. Eve’s Bayou was a rich, literate narrative written and directed by Kasi Lemmons. Joey Lauren Adams is not nearly at that level, which is why I thought this movie was “all right” as opposed to “really good”.

  • 4 Marilyn // Dec 4, 2007 at 9:04 am

    Joe – No, this isn’t a great film. But I think it’s a good film. Perhaps I relate to it better as a woman. I just don’t see enough people like me on the screen, and I found it extremely refreshing to see a woman who is very good at her work who isn’t caricatured as a ball buster or a plain jane.

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