Over the years, many movies have been made about writing,
and even more have been made about messed up families. Blue
Car is about both those subjects, as well as a story of
a girl’s journey from innocence to experience. The result
is a depressing tale about an unhappy high school girl that
starts off well enough, but tries to deal with too many issues
to find a strong and clear focus.
Megan Denning (Bruckner) is the troubled 18-year-old
protagonist. Her mother Diane (Colin) overworks herself
trying to make ends meet, and barely has any energy left to
take care of herself, much less her two daughters. Meg’s younger
sister Lily (Arnold) feels lost and alone, and rebels
in her own way by refusing to eat. Everything in Meg’s life
is wrong, a downward spiral that began when her father left
the three of them.
Enter Mr. Auster (Strathairn), Meg’s English teacher,
who sees something (talent? something more?) in Meg, and encourages
her to express herself in poetry. She writes about the most
vivid event in her life so far, her father driving away in
a blue car, and wins the school poetry contest along with
a chance to compete in Florida.
The upcoming trip to Florida consumes Meg, as she sees a
way of escaping her unhappy life at home. Meanwhile, she begins
to spend more and more time with Mr. Auster, who goes beyond
the role of an educator and takes up duties as Meg’s friend
as well as proverbial knight in shining armor. When Meg’s
life goes awry, she clings to Mr. Auster more tightly, and
their relationship undergoes a transformation through the
course of the movie.
One thing I’ve noticed in movies with literary themes is
the abundance of inspirational quips and pep talks, usually
given by a mentor to a mentee. In Dead Poet’s Society,
another movie about writing poems, John Keating (Robin
Williams) advises his students that, “No matter what anybody
tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” Blue
Car is no different, with Mr. Auster telling Meg, “Make
yourself proud, and fame and fortune will follow.” But inspirational
words are out of place and unnecessary in this movie, where
the characters need more hope than inspiration.
No one is happy in this movie, and everyone harbors internal
problems that manifest themselves in grim faces. A lot of
yelling and crying occurs, but none of it is very poignant.
It’s implied in the movie that writing is a form of release
and expression, but there is surprisingly little writing involved.
Meg’s main work is her poem “Blue Car,” and she doesn’t write
much else. The subject of writing is used more as a device
to move the plot along than an in-depth exploration of how
writing could influence lives.
Maybe I’m getting it all wrong and this movie isn’t supposed
to be an inspirational movie, but a realistic portrayal of
a girl who must deal with the obstacles of life. The movie
works better in this perspective, and we get an unfiltered
glimpse into the life and mind of a teenager. However, as
authentic as the characters might be (the tension between
mother and daughter is notable), the situation of a poetry
contest, or even the existence of such a big redeeming event,
is unique. Since most of Meg’s actions revolve around the
contest, the story is necessarily specific and not universal.
Other movies have explored the same themes as Blue Car
in the past, and have done it with more finesse.