Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bye Bye Blues

(Anne Wheeler, 1989)
With her third feature, Wheeler applies her down-home feminism to the tale of a POW's wife (Rebecca Jenkins) who becomes a working musician in the dark days of WWII. Will she fall in with the drifting trumpeter, or remain faithful to a man who might already be dead? The streets-of-India opener effectively reminds us that there's a world beyond the prairies and that Jenkins has already been there - too bad the script doesn't play more with this. Her adventures on the circuit and at home display some wit; the predictably gorgeous Western vistas are played off of smart editing rhythms and some nice (if gauzy) local colour, and Jenkins is not only radiant, she can actually pull out the stops vocally. In spite of the catchy keynote banality "When I Sing", though, George Blondheim's honky badland jazz seems overarranged and too slick for its milieu. Since this movie is about music, you'd hope for better handling of Jenkins' creative awakening, but in practice she moves from arrhythmic oompah piano to fluid jazz chordings in an unconvincing ellipse. And since this movie is about the struggle of women, you'd hope that these struggles would be brought to some kind of active resolution, but alas as in "Loyalties" Wheeler confuses resolution with total cop-out. If she wanted to challenge the sentimental view of liberation as abandonment of roots, then she shouldn't have rigged the deck; Jenkins' return to domesticity is paved with plot contrivances and convenient character reversals that take the initiative out of her hands entirely. The movie ends when the war ends, and you feel like you've been had.

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