As we all know, real life ain't always fun to watch.
Humans are a messy bunch: we let each other down, scream, yell, bite our fingernails and don't comb our hair. We let ourselves believe what isn't true so we can survive day to day. When betrayed, we bite our lips and soldier on--until we hit a breaking point.
None of this is smooth or easy. All of this and more is portrayed in the 2002 indie Blue Car, a movie that had me cringing and chewing my knuckle. Not because it was bad, but because it was achingly real.
One of the small details Blue Car does so very well is the main character Meg's fingernails. Bitten to the quick and partially covered with nail polish so chipped it's hard to determine the color, they serve as a window into Meg's understandably damaged psyche. Sure, she's beautiful and artistically gifted, but she also has a whole lot of baggage that will manifest over and over throughout the film, threatening to thwart the simple goals in her already scattershot life.
In a nutshell: Meg's (Agnes Bruckner) dad left several years ago (in the blue car of the title), and rarely sees his two daughters. Meg's mom struggles through night school and a factory job to make ends meet, while Meg's younger sister Lily has issues with self-injury, anorexia and delusion. Meg has exactly two things going for her: her talent for poetry, and her borderline inappropriate relationship with her AP English teacher (David Strathairn) who encourages her to submit her writing to a contest. And it's (mostly) all downhill from there.
When I think about Blue Car, the word that comes to mind is painful. Also, uncomfortable. Bleak, even. Unlike An Education, Blue Car doesn't have the benefit of funny parent characters or mod pastel colors. Everything and everyone is washed-out and desperate. I will give the filmmaker props for keeping the film at a short 88 minutes, because at times I wasn't sure how much more I could take of watching everyone's life get worse and worse. A simple act of no-strings-attached kindness toward Meg late in the film was enough to move me to tears.
Yet I had to appreciate how Blue Car did not fall into the easy trap of Lifetime Original Movie territory. First, Meg wasn't a straight-up victim. Even in the mindset of her sad existence, she made decisions that
were impetuous at best and dangerous at worst.
Second, I didn't hate her teacher, and I'd like to think it's not just because I adore David Strathairn. (A League of Their Own. A Midsummer Night's Dream. Good Night and Good Luck. I could go on and on--the man is a character actor GOD.) Does he misuse and abuse his authority and power? Absomalutely. Still, he has his own demons to deal with. It doesn't make his actions right or even understandable, but I didn't want to murder him when the movie was done. Truth be told, if there was any authority figure I really disliked, it was Meg's mother, who may have been struggling, but showed no real compassion for either of her daughters until it was too late. At least Meg's teacher genuinely believed in her writing talent.
Third, the ending was not clear-cut. The audience is left to draw their own conclusions about Meg's future. In some films that can be frustrating, but here I appreciated the filmmaker's respect for the audience's intelligence. I didn't feel manipulated, as I do increasingly these days, even in indie movies. (Three words: Little Miss Sunshine. You can argue with me in the comments.)
I Wikipedia'd Agnes Bruckner: since Blue Car, the actress hasn't done much of note. A few years ago, I did attempt her werewolf movie (based on a YA novel) Blood and Chocolate and found it unwatchable. Not sure if she just hasn't gotten another break a la Erika Christensen, or if this was a very well-directed performance. Either way, I liked her here.
While Google imaging this film, I found the DVD cover. I hadn't seen it previously, as the place I rent from looks up the titles for you, then gives you the disc. I must say, it bugs the crap out of me.
Really, DVD marketing powers-that-be? REALLY? It might as well be called Blue Boobs.
First, Meg never dresses this provocatively in the film. With the exception of her bathing suit in later scenes, her clothes are baggy, reflecting her uncertainty and self-consciousness. She's also never seen holding a flower near her crotch in the world's most obvious metaphor for virginity. Gah.
Second, I HATE photos where the chick has no head. You don't see many headless dudes, but headless girls and women are everywhere in advertising. We're more than just bodies, people!
Is Blue Car a perfect movie? Hell no. It is at times heavy-handed and melodramatic, and I still can't tell whether or not Agnes Bruckner can really act. However, this tacky, exploitative DVD cover insults the film's thoughtful, emotional portrayal of the ultimate little girl lost. Meg is solemn, troubled, most of all complicated. Sure, I got exasperated with her many times, but most of all I wanted her to be okay, to do something with her writing, to find real, pure love. I didn't always agree with her actions, but I valued her as a multifaceted, interesting young woman. This DVD cover does not.
Let's look at the original movie poster, shall we?
Wow! Meg's FACE! How 'bout that?
(Thanks to my reader Heather Taylor for recommending this film!)