For Ellen

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For Ellen
Directed by So Yong Kim
Tribeca Film
Opens September 5, Film Forum

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The method-y, elfin-brooder, hipster-star-of-the-moment Paul Dano has four movies out this year, but here is his one-man show, a post-Cassavetes gift to the lowly god of grit and "authenticity." Shot with personal-space-violating intimacy by sensitive semi-mumble vet So Yong Kim, the movie never strays more than a few inches from the odiferous aura around Dano's Joby, a dim goth alt-rocker in a nowhere band we first meet driving himself into an upstate snowbank. Joby struggles mostly alone with the disappointment he has provided his ex-wife and his deadbeat-dad legacy in regard to the titular grade-schooler (Shaylena Mandigo). A lean character study of a classic, if hardly articulate, modern lost-boy archetype, Kim's film sometimes runs the risk of taking Joby almost as seriously as he takes himself, staring this wastrel down as if his every pout and blink were a window on the human condition. But at the same time, the character's pitiful narcissism is certainly sliced for sandwiches, and the film does find a patient balance between its obvious sincerity and the scenario's lack of depth and surprise. Dano, with his remarkably guileless meta-teen puss, is thoroughly convincing, which is more than can be said for the film's shameless climactic steal from Five Easy Pieces. Michael Atkinson

 
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