There was a time when you would scoff at the idea of Maria Carey in a movie. But now after her turn in Precious and another outing in Tennessee (which is produced by the producer/director of Precious, coincidentally enough), Carey may just be on her way to a reputable, if understated, acting career. But while she is a supporting cast member of this film, she is hardly the star and leads Ethan Peck and Adam Rothenberg are instead the focus of this film about brothers who are on the road for a cure to both a terminal illness but also reconciliation with their abusive father.
Maria Carey, Ethan Peck, and Adam Rothenberg star in this honest and heartwarming journey of self-discovery from producer Lee Daniels (director and producer, Precious). When two very different brothers set out on a road trip to find their estranged father, they’re joined by a frustrated young waitress (Carey) with a dream who helps them overcome their painful past, confront the challenges in their futures, and become a family again. Featuring breakthrough performances and Maria Carey’s stirring song “Right to Dream,” it’s a moving drama about facing the past in order to find your future.
I know what you’re thinking—this sounds like a stinker. Well, you’re right. It is. Not for the usual reasons, however, as this really could’ve been quite a successful and appreciated indie outing, but instead it’s a little overly preachy and hard to swallow. The problem is just the convenience of everything; the brothers finding the female equivalent of them while on the road to face their abusive father. Then she joins them as she runs from her abusive husband and…then she ends up in a talent show. Which really isn’t a huge deal; it’s not like Carey can’t sing or anything, but the whole production is just kind of hard to swallow.
Toss in the rammed-down-your-throat religious angle and it just gets to be a very strange movie by the end. There are some genuinely good performances, don’t get me wrong, but I find it hard to believe a lot of the goings on in this film. It’s not that I’m without faith, I just don’t get how this film can go to the lengths it does with the concepts without causing the majority of its viewers off. The plot really does seem to be something that should have been constructed for a Touched by an Angel episode or some kind of Lifetime original movie.
The main crutch of the film is that Ellis (Peck) has leukemia and his brother isn’t a bone marrow match, so they seek out their estranged father from whom they fled back when they were in high school. See he was a drunk and abusive to them, so Carter (Rosenberg) took his little brother and ran. Not a terribly original or unheard of story, unfortunately, but it works in the early stages of the film. It’s towards the end, which admittedly is mildly unpredictable (although now that I’ve said that you can probably guess which direction it takes), that interest and believable start to wane simultaneously.
There are definitely moments in the film where you’re bowled over by the performances by all parties involved, but inbetween those moments you have some incredibly cavity causing syrupy sweet scenes that make you cringe. And, again, it put the film into the Lifetime movie category. Which, honestly, if this was made for that network and then put on DVD, I might be more lenient towards it. But it tried to establish itself as a legitimate film and to that I can only scoff at. Of course the directing and visuals are really well done, so it’s kind of unfair to call it a Lifetime production based on the story progression alone as that’s really its only weak point. If it’d been a bit more focused and less candy sweet at times it would’ve been easier to swallow.
The film is worth a Rental if you’re a Carey fan, but she’s honestly the only hook to this film. It’s interesting to see the grandson of the legendary Gregory Peck and he definitely has some talent, but this film is such an odd mixture of good and bad talent that it’s really not something you may be able to stick with for the 99 minutes it runs. What’s even stranger is that the good and bad often come from the same actors.
Arriving on DVD in a standard Amaray Eco DVD case without any kind of inserts, the set boasts a cardboard slipcover on the outside, but other than it has nothing fancy about its presentation. Disc art and menus are what you expect and the video is nicely detailed, although there is an abundance of grain present so be prepared for that. The audio mix, a DD5.1 mix, is mostly dialogue and front channel driven with the only real hint of surround and subwoofer work occurring during the talent show portion of the film.
The lone extra is the The Road to Tennessee (12:31), which is a nice little summary of the film’s production and the difficulties it went through trying to find an actor for Carter. Plus there are some nice candid moment with producer Lee Daniels and director Aaaron Woodley, which makes you wonder why the film didn’t get a commentary.
Overall it’s a release you can Skip as it’s doubtful you’ll be coming back for seconds and the extras are severely limited.
Tennessee arrives on DVD on January 26th.