Posted by schnolis on June 10th, 2009 filed in Reviews

TENNESSEE Carter (Adan Rothenberg) is the kind of son that every reasonable dad wants to have. He’s popular, talented, and has a strong sense of responsibility. He looks after his younger brother, he treats his girlfriend well, and you just know he’s the kind of kid that’s going to turn out all right. Carter didn’t get a reasonable father, though. He got the other kind—the alcoholic, abusive, physically domineering jerk who could never appreciate what a great son he’s got. On a day when he should be cuddling with his girlfriend at the local drive-in, Carter leads his mother and baby brother into the car and they flee their dad, leaving their life behind them forever.

Recovering from that kind of start in life isn’t easy, and it only gets worse for the boys. Their mother is frail and doesn’t get to live her life fully, either, leaving Carter in charge of his little brother Ellis (Ethan Peck). Without much complaint, Carter takes on this burden and keeps them both going, working instead of going to college, nurturing his brother instead of going out with a girlfriend. This is their life, and it continues until they discover that Ellis has got leukemia, and desperately needs a bone marrow transplant in order to survive. The only possible donor is their father, who as been out of the lives of these young men for years. Hope for Ellis is up in Tennessee, so they begin another journey back home.

Along the way they pick up Krystal (Mariah Carey), a closet songwriter who’s never quite dared to reach out on her own. She’s married to another abusive man, this one a police officer with a bad attitude. She decides to travel with the boys and head to Memphis to see if her dreams of singing can finally come true. Plenty of obstacles are thrown up. The highway patrolman husband tracks her down. The eventual worsening of Ellis’s disease makes him more and more frail. The eventual discovery of the father’s demise nearly drives Carter over the edge. But somehow, Ellis does the only thing that can relieve his brother of Carter’s assumed responsiblity; he dies, and in doing so frees Carter to live his own life, to pursue the love he once had and to find the dreams he barely had the chance to imagne. Ellis makes an odd hero, a sick man concluding his life when most people are just beginning.

In some ways it’s a tender, touching story about a family or people that are just fractured so much there’s not much left to build upon. It’s sad and understandable that there is a lot of pain in homes so broken by abuse, and it’s worth making good films about them. But this film is mostly just weak, making the older brother too much of a martyr. The singer is just an odd wrench thrown into the works for no apparent reason–she adds nothing to the story, certainly not any quality performing. She alters nothing the brothers do except for providing them a ride. I would have enjoyed the movie had it attempted to delve further into the character of the older brother, the one for whom the younger brother is willing to stop fighting for his own life for.

What I liked: Some interesting and selfless people doing noble things for others, even at their own expense. The feel of the movie was solid, and I enjoyed the grimy raw love that connected them and seemed to follow the brothers around.

What I disliked: The entire movie is built upon the premise that the older brother doesn’t learn about his father’s death. The tension could be spoiled by a half dozen simple things, things that happen to people every day. A phone call, an obituary, an inquiry from a newspaper, a phone fcall from a relative or old friend. There is no reason to build a movie on such a house of cards when other perfectly reasonable methods are available. I didn’t like the singer, or the self-pity in which Carter constantly wallowed. He didn’t own up enough to his choices sometimes.

Rating: 5 of 10

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