Tennessee Tunes in to its Beaten-Down Characters


Fourteen years after they fled their abusive father, brothers Carter (Adam Rothenberg) and Ellis (Ethan Peck) drive from New Mexico to Tennessee to contact him in the hopes that he’s a bone-marrow match for the leukemia-stricken Ellis. If you’re wondering why the guys don’t save time by calling first, you’re not on the wavelength of director Aaron Woodley’s contemplative, pokey road-movie/sibling drama, which exists in an antiquated, slow-motion world of pay phones, smoky roadhouses, and kindhearted waitresses who dream of becoming country singers. Screenwriter Russell Schaumburg has a knack for subtly unrolling his script’s themes of forgiveness and second chances, but while the road trip contains several nice moments—and an unexpectedly empathetic performance from pop superstar Mariah Carey as said waitress—Tennessee just doesn’t add up to much. Despite the inclusion of an ill-advised chase-thriller element midway through, and a shockeroo surprise at the end, Woodley’s film mostly floats along on its melancholy drift, so well-attuned to the low-key rhythms of its beaten-down characters that it never quite summons up enough energy for the rest of us, along for the ride.