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Blue Car (R)
Official Site
Director: Karen Moncrieff
Producers: Peer J. Oppenheimer, Amy Sommer, David Waters (IV)
Written by: Karen Moncrieff
Cast: David Strathairn, Agnes Bruckner, Margaret Colin, Regan Arnold, Frances Fisher

Rating: out of 5

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.

—Kelly Hsu


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