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2 reviews, 8 user ratings

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Forty Shades of Blue
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by Chris Parry

"A surprising Sundance winner... surprising because it didn't stink."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: I've never been in tune with Sundance juries - ever. Whenever they show a great film at the 'Dance, you can just bet that it won't win a prize, yet when a steaming pile debuts at the big fest, it will somehow manage to snare a prize. Last year's Grand Jury Dramatic winner, Primer, was a stillborn flick that nobody seemed to think was outstanding, and the Special Jury Prizes given to Brother to Brother and Down to the Bone didn't help either film get seen by a crowd. When The Believer beat Donnie Darko, In The Bedroom and Memento in 2001, I could actually hear the head-scratching sound emanating from Park City for weeks afterward. So is Forty Shades of Blue yet another shock from the Sundance Jury? Well, yes and no.

Laura (Dina Korzun) is a good looking Russian woman in her mid 30's. Brought to the US by Alan (Rip Torn), a wealthy music producer about double her age, Laura goes through life trying not to complain about that which is not perfect. She spends her day looking after their out-of-wedlock 3-year-old son, keeping herself in perfect physical shape, and surrounding herself with all the mod-cons she can possible use. She's got it all, yet she has nothing. For Alan's a bit of a bastard.

Yup, surprise surprise, Alan the rich old American with the Russian trophy girlfriend (she's not even his wife) is a prick. He's grouchy, dismissive, exclusionary, obsessed with work and, to be honest, just this side of senile. With a fully-grown son in his past, who Alan seems to not give a damn about, it's safe to say that this womaning, philandering, impatient old fool is just the kind of guy you'd expect to be sent out to pasture, only there are so many leeches are attached to his underbelly, all his excesses are forgiven by those around him, because he's 'the man'.

So Laura coasts in and out of his life, ignoring his screwing around, attempting some screwing around of her own but not having the courage to follow through, and slowly moving towards a breakdown. That is, until Alan's fully grown, married, literary professor son, Michael (Darren "Ed from Northern Exposure" Burrows appears on the scene. In a complicated morass of dysfunction and oedipal jealousy, Michael and Laura become attracted, then connected, and then... well, let's just say this is no how-to-keep-a-healthy-marriage manual.

Reminiscent in style of Robert Altman's Nashville, there's a very raw quality to Forty Shades of Blue that helps the audience peel back the story and connect with the characters behind it. When Rip Torn gets ornery, you'd never know you were looking at Rip Torn blowing a fuse - he's more like that nasty uncle your grandmother won't let come to Christmas lunch since he poked Late Aunt Mabel in the eye with a salad fork. Laura, for all her annoying traits of acceptance in the eye of abuse, becomes a genuinely heartfelt character the likes of which we've all either fallen for at one time, or seen someone close to us fall for, only to be frustrated as she just won't move away from the oncoming train.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is Ed. I mean, Darren Burrows. Having well and truly grown up since the days when his TV character was a pop culture demigod, Burrows has barely worked in the years since, and has no doubt had to work hard to shake the tag that people like me just won't let die. Hey, forgive me, Darren, but Ed was a cultural phenomenon, you know? In thirty years you'll be happy you can't shake that guy, but for now, it must be said that Burrows is barely recognizable in his old form. Matured, assured, seemingly comfortable in a dramatic role with nary a comedic line in sight, it takes a little while to go along with his character, and indeed the movie itself, but once you do, it's a worthwhile ride.

That's basically the story of Forty Shades of Blue in a nutshell. If you can deal with the slow pace, the annoying traits of the characters, and a story with no real happy ending (at least not the kind you expect), it only gets better as it rolls on. Personally, the film was in one or two-star territory for me until the halfway point, when Torn's bravura performance and Korzun's even keel put the whole thing right.

I can't say this was one of my favorite films of this year's Sundance film festival, but I can say it's a solid outing for all concerned. There are certainly films that struck me in a much bigger way, but there should be little doubt in anyone's mind that Forty Shades of Blue is at least worth a look-see. And that's mosre than can be said for most Sundance Jury winners over the last fifteen years.

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originally posted: 02/05/05 10:30:32
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Vancouver Film Festival For more in the 2005 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/10/07 mr. mike Dina's hot but she cant save it from being a bore 2 stars
8/05/07 fools♫gold Thosewho getbored, inacertainsense, duringafilm, shouldn'trateit. ("Believer"deserved awin) 4 stars
9/27/05 Christopher Zeller Completely bereft of plot and slower than watching mold grow. 1 stars
1/31/05 bullygirl slow torture with no point! argh!! 2 stars
1/30/05 pebo Don't waste your time 1 stars
1/26/05 Johnathon Nash Smart and unusual for an American film. Only people with patience and a taste should see it 5 stars
1/24/05 Polak Takes a while to get started, but it grows on you. Great performance by Rip Torn. 3 stars
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  DVD: 13-Jun-2006



Directed by
  Ira Sachs

Written by
  Ira Sachs
  Michael Rohatyn

  Rip Torn
  Dina Korzun
  Darren E. Burrows
  Jenny O'Hara
  Joanne Pankow
  Emily McKenna

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