Judge Bill Gibron enjoys Tennessee Tuxedo, Tennessee Pride Sausage, and The Tennessee Birdwalk, but he was less than impressed by this lackluster coming-of-age drama set in the Volunteer State.
The smaller the town, the bigger the dreams.
Five friends—Clancy (Jason Ritter, Freddy vs. Jason), Melora (Autumn Kendall, The OC), Ray, Glen, and Bobbie (Hilarie Burton, One Tree Hill)—discover that their small Tennessee town is about to be visited by local gal made good Sondra Locke. It's 1978 and her film Every Which Way But Loose is about to premiere in the city's only theater. Better still, she's scheduled to be part of the annual Walking Horse Festivities, and may even attend the accompanying variety show. This sends Melora into orbit. Longing for a way to get out of her podunk, one-mule happenstance, she sees meeting and impressing Ms. Locke as her means of personal salvation. Too bad her growing affection for Clancy may put a damper on things. Besides, he has his own issues at home. Dad (Keith Carradine, Nashville) is a raging drunk and he's driven the family to the point of personal shame and financial ruin. Even Clancy's sensitive, stoic mother (Allison Janney, The West Wing) has a hard time keeping it together. Indeed, it seems there are more predicaments than resolutions in this close-knit community. But with one of its "very own" coming back, it may be a sign of something positive—or the final nail in the area's slowly closing coffin.
There is nothing new about Our Very Own. It tells a tale—coming of age in an insular small town—that dozens of different filmmakers have forwarded. It peppers its plaintive look at growing up isolated and bored with as many antebellum quirks as possible (the movie is set in Shelbyville, Tenn.) and attempts to deal with the standard melodramatic issues—scandal, alcoholism, "closeted" concerns—with arch plot twists and good old-fashioned gumption. In the end, after all the tears have been shed and all the perkiest of pipe dreams shattered, we end up with that most Southern Shakespeare of experiences, a tale full of well-meaning sound and idiosyncratic fury, signifying absolutely zilch. First-time writer/director Cameron Watson may be working through some of the problems he faced as a restless redneck adolescent (the movie is supposedly very autobiographical), but they fail to add up to anything worth mentioning. Somewhere along the line, someone should have told this neophyte artist that not every tale is worth telling. Just because a one-time famous actress visited your hometown while your father was going into a booze-fueled tailspin doesn't mean the rest of the world is interested. To make matters worse, no one wants to revisit the same old shtick about following your dreams, longing for escape, and using close camaraderie and puppy love as a substitute for confronting that impending irritation known as adulthood.
Part of the problem is that Watson wants to do too much. He wants to make this portrait of Shelbyville into the kind of novella-like vista where every element has a multidimensional backstory. When we meet a cranky old diner waitress who seems to hate everything about her job, we just know she's burdened by troubles unspoken. True to such tenets, we never learn what they are. Similarly, Melora's sour sister Rhonda is a whacked-out whirling dervish who seems both completely together and wildly disjointed. Her main malfunction is, again, never revealed. As a matter of fact, most of Watson's weirdoes are left less than one-dimensional. From a chain-smoking mother who's nothing but exasperated to a Chamber of Commerce representative who once pissed her pants while delivering the high school valedictorian speech, there are more caricatures than characters here, which makes the actual personalities vying for our attention all the more misunderstood. You see, when a person is going through a real crisis, like Allison Janney's Joan Whitfield, having someone in town who allows a dog to ride on the car roof marginalizes her distress. A great deal of Our Very Own plays out this way. We would sympathize more easily with the chaos in Clancy's household if it weren't for the distracting oddballs farting around the fringes. Unfortunately, the crackpots are really all the film has. And they are not the only reason it fails.
Watson has a hard time getting actual performances out of his otherwise noteworthy cast. Keith Carradine has done some excellent work in the past. Here, however, he can't pull off the drunken desperation of Clancy's father. Similarly, Mary Badham, famous for playing Scout in the classic Hollywood adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, is given the thankless role of a silent, spooky homeless woman (possibly, a mother who ran away and left her several urchin kids without a parental figure) that fails to have much of an emotional or psychological impact. As the kids, Jason Ritter is just fine, as is Michael McKee as the Broadway-loving sensitive type who appears to be a single psychological breakdown away from proclaiming his well-hidden (and mostly inferred) homosexuality. But Autumn Reeser's ridiculous turn as Melora makes the viewer want to hurt someone. So obsessed with Sondra Locke that she probably invented the concept of stalking, her incessant calls of "believe in your dreams" and "I will be famous" are unfathomably optimistic. She'd be the kind of kid who'd find the death of a parent to be a positive learning experience. Of course, the biggest flaw is that we fail to empathize with her needs. She seems to have it all, and yet complains about having nothing. It's a lot like the rest of Our Very Own. It overflows with the kind of pointless motion picture accessorizing that's supposed to take the place of real-life riches. As predicted, the results are bland and kind of tacky.
Another one of Miramax's "hold for future consideration" releases (the movie has been on the shelf for two years), this DVD is actually pretty respectable. It's as bare-bones as one can get—no added content except for a few pointless previews—but the tech specs are relatively solid. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image is colorful and clean, the transfer capturing the rich tones of sun-splashed Southern vistas perfectly. Watson is not some manner of cinematic stylist, but his visual qualities do aid in recreating the late '70s without actually falling into pure period-piece stunts. Sonically, Our Very Own is given a glorified Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix that really does very little. The multi-channel dynamic comes in handy when the era-appropriate disco tunes bust out but, overall, there is very little spatial or directional ambience offered.
Perhaps if he had stripped away most of the local color and instead focused on the inherent conflict at hand; maybe if he removed most of the melodrama and actually allowed differences and diversions to form between the characters organically. It could just be a matter of having subject matter that is far too close to home. Whatever the answer, one thing is very clear: Our Very Own is not very good. It's decent in a derivative kind of way, but little about this cloying coming of age inspires any lengthy nostalgia. Guilty.
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