What is it about great musicians
and addictions? Maybe
they sense or feel something at a more expanded level than the rest of us
mortals, and when it comes to recreational activity, well, they want to fly
high then, as well. Or
maybe you have to be somewhat selfish and self-involved to even develop the
talent of a great musician, and it’s that self-involvement that insulates
from feeling sorry too much about the effects the addictive behavior has on
everybody else. Or
maybe there’s no relationship at all, it’s just that some folks are prone
to addiction, and we know about them because they’re famous for something
else, like musicianship.
Or another form of artistry, like acting.
It’s still a tragedy to misuse all that talent,
and abuse the trust of loved ones.
And it’s that last part that hurts the most in
Joe Albany played gigs with
Charlie Parker and Miles Davis.
Even if you’re not a jazz aficionado, you can
appreciate the stratospheric level of musicianship here.
These guys have music coming out of their pores.
And they play it in a way that few can even
duplicate, much less create.
John Wilkes is very impressive in the lead role;
even his piano playing is mesmerizing.
He seems like a sweet man, wouldn’t hurt a
flea, but his addiction drives him to irresponsibility, even abandonment.
He has a lovely daughter, Amy Jo (Elle Fanning),
who just adores and idolizes her Dad.
She’s so proud of his accomplishments.
But he’s a mess.
He’s in and out of prison.
He “forgets” to meet with his parole officer,
which gets him in more trouble.
His ex-wife, Sheila (Lena Headey) is a stumbling
drunk who occasionally visits Joe’s ramshackle apartment, puts more false
hope into Amy Jo, and inevitably shuffles away into her own personal oblivion.
We feel for the innocent
adolescent Amy Jo, as she tries her best to be the only responsible person in
this hellhole she lives in, but it’s more burden than any teenager should
have to bear. The
little kid down the hall asks for help with his mother, the hooker, who’s
passed out with a needle stuck in her arm.
The friendly neighborhood dwarf, Alain (Peter
Dinklage) is nice to her, but she discovers that he’s into making kinky
porno films in his apartment, and that understandably freaks her out.
Her Dad’s best friend, a fellow jazz musician,
is also an addict, and worse, he brings the drug dealer along to visit, and
Amy Jo just has to get lost for a while and wander aimlessly around the grimy
streets, itself a tragedy waiting to happen.
When Joe Albany realizes that
he’s on a treadmill he can’t seem to get off, he decides to flee to
seems infatuated with rock n’roll, and maybe the Parisians
would still appreciate his jazz.
He leaves his daughter in the care of his mother,
Gram (Glenn Close, who’s only 11 years older than Wilkes, so the casting
doesn’t quite work). Gram
is a flinty broad who likes watching boxing on television, and isn’t afraid
to apply the right cross to her wayward son’s face when she feels like he
needs it. But she also co-dependently enables his dissolution.
The music is great in this film.
But what’s on the screen is gritty,
disheartening, and difficult to watch, especially the systematic emotional
abandonment of this sweet teenager girl who only longs for a little stability
in her life. But
that’s the one thing she’s least likely to get.
The only good news is that the real Amy Jo Albany
wrote and produced the movie, based on her book, so we can at least hope that
grace prevailed in her life, despite the gracelessness all around her.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Parish
Associate, Woodhaven Presbyterian Church,