June 5, 2009
Have you ever seen Mariah Carey act? If you didn't catch her bit role in the Bachelor (1999), her starring role in Glitter (2001), or her straight-to-video role in Wisegirls (2002), you may have another chance. Though her acting was thoroughly criticized back in the days of the above-mentioned pictures, Carey has evidently enacted a new cinematic strategy: if you can't succeed at the top, start again from the bottom. And thus her participation in two indie films: the decidedly well-reviewed, Harlem-set Precious, and the less well-reviewed, Tennessee-set, Tennessee.
This one's a drama about two brothers road-tripping their way back to the title state, and the girl (Carey) they manage to pick up on their way. As such, it sounds similar to the oft- planned but never made Alexander Payne film about a road trip to his home state, Nebraska.
Now, if a film titled after a state needs some geographical pedigree, then Tennessee's is shaky. It's directed by Aaron Woodley, who is not only from Toronto, Ontario, but is so Canadian that he's actually the nephew of David Cronenberg and directed a segment in the equally-indie film Toronto Stories. The writer, Russell Schaumburg, was born in St. Louis but raised in Knoxville, and so it's there that we arrive at our Tennessee connection. Schaumburg's never written a produced film before, and Woodley's credits are limited to short films and the distinctly obscure Rhinoceros Eyes (2003), so this is basically a freshman effort. Save for Carey's, none of the names in the cast evoke pangs of recognition, except that of Ethan Peck - and that's no surprise, because he's Gregory Peck's grandson.
Tennessee's official website describes it as "a moving and gripping drama of sacrifice and self-discovery", and I think we may have to take their word for it, because this one's release is going to be almost prototypically limited, even in its eponymous state. The studio is Vivendi Entertainment, previously an enabler of straight-to-video efforts like Pledge This! and Bloodrayne II (I apologize for the cheap Uwe Boll plug). Tennessee follows An American Carol and the Stone Angel as the company's third theatrical release, with the delayed New York, I Love You soon to follow. While I would automatically wish only good things on any distributor that dabbled so thoroughly in exploitation films, something tells me this isn't going to be their breakout movie. Still, it might put a plus in Carey's column, and that shouldn't be underrated. (Michael Lynderey/BOP)