Review: LOVELY MOLLY, A Deeply Unsettling Character Study
[With Lovely Molly due for limited theatrical release tomorrow, we revisit our review from the 2011 Toronto film festival.]
Molly Reynolds is, in many ways, the typical American girl. A small town girl in middle America with little education, she married young and lives a blue collar life with her truck driver husband Tim. There doesn't appear to be anything remarkable about Molly at first glance, but if you dig just a little bit beneath the surface you'll find an abyss, a dark hidden world that threatens to consume her.
A former junkie struggling to stay clean, Molly turned to the drugs in the first place to soothe the memories of an abusive childhood. But with Tim on the road as often as not and the couple freshly moved back in to her childhood home, Molly is left on her own to fend off her personal demons. And in this case those demons may be very, very real.
Blair Witch Project co-director Eduardo Sanchez turns in what is arguably the finest film of his career with Lovely Molly, a deeply unsettling character study of a woman slowly coming apart at the seams, unable to shake the belief that she is being haunted - possibly even possessed - by the ghost of her abusive father. Sanchez goes straight to the heart of Molly's secret trauma, tackling the incredibly difficult subject matter head on and playing the consequences of it out in shocking fashion, Molly slow cycling farther and farther out of control until she becomes a threat to all around her.
The strength of Lovely Molly lies to a great degree with star Gretchen Lodge, who delivers an absolutely fearless and often astounding performance as the titular Molly. Her transformation from the typical girl next door to a woman unhinged is shocking to watch. Lodge leaves it all on the screen with an emotionally vulnerable performance that flips between fear and shame and crazed violence with disturbing ease.
Lodge is not the only actor who delivers, however. In fact, for a director who built his name with a movie largely improvised on the spot, Sanchez proves to have a remarkable ability to get strong performances from his cast. Every performance rings true, Johnny Lewis providing a completely believable counterpoint to Molly as her husband Tim, while Alexandra Holden does good work as Molly's sister. Some of that performance quality must surely be credited to the script - also by Sanchez - which creates incredibly realistic, recognizable characters for all.
Also strong are the editing work, which provides a balance between first person perspective footage shot by Molly herself within the film and more conventional narrative, and a strong, aggressive sound mix that makes fabulous work of a very strong score by Tortoise.
Though by focusing so strongly on character over plot while also tackling incredibly thorny subject matter Sanchez has made a film that will likely prove very difficult to market, he has also made one of the most mature and engrossing films of his career. Individual viewer response will likely hinge almost entirely on the degree the viewer identifies with Molly herself but, from this perspective, an unnecessary epilogue aside, there's virtually nothing I would change.
Lovely Molly opens in limited release in the U.S. on Friday, May 18.