Preview by: Jack Foley
AT A time of year when quality US movies seem to be few and far
between, and the bulk of the audience favourites tend to have
a number tagged on the end of them, it is the independent sector
you frequently need to turn to in order to find anything of genuine
Blue Car is one such film. A firm favourite at the 2002 Sundance
Film Festival, where it was the first film purchased, snapped
up by Miramax for an estimated $1.5 million, it marks the first-time
feature from director, Karen Moncrieff, a former actress, and
has earned rave reviews wherever it has played.
The film centres around an 18-year-old aspiring poet (played
by Agnes Bruckner), who, after being abandoned by her father and
neglected by her overworked mother, looks to her English teacher
(David Strathairn) for comfort and inspiration.
What begins as a mentoring relationship, however, becomes increasingly
complex as the tension in her family escalates.
The film is described by Moncrieff herself as 'a haunting and
intimate portrait of a young poet whose hunger for true affection
leads to a devastating encounter with an older teacher'.
And it marks something of a labour of love for the former Days
of our Loves star, who told Entertainment Weekly that she had
become bored 'being one piece in someone else's puzzle'.
''I wanted to be the one designing the puzzle,'' she asserts.
The script subsequently won a 1998 Nicholl Fellowship - a hefty
cash endowment from none other than the Academy of Motion Picture
Arts and Sciences.
When Miramax got hold of it four years later, Moncrieff got her
first taste of the studio system, including a new score, and the
dreaded test screening feedback.
Once again, Entertainment Weekly reports that test audiences
disliked a frank and painful sex scene involving young Meg.
But Moncrieff remained defiant, stating that the scene 'was 'not
supposed to be pleasant, it's supposed to be awful and harrowing'.
The result is one which US critics have lapped up...
Having quoted from Entertainment Weekly so much, it is
only fair to begin this overview of the critical reaction with
their verdict. Needless to say, it was glowing, receiving the
maximum A grade and being described, simply, as 'superb'.
It concludes: "Here's hoping that in her poetic future,
Moncrieff will remain independent, free to deepen all the colors
of her talent."
The New York Daily News, meanwhile, referred to it as
'a fine first film, and one you won't easily forget', awarding
it two and a half out of four.
While the New York Post described it as an 'unflinchingly
honest coming-of-age portrait' and gave it three out of four.
Likewise, the New York Times, which referred to it as
'a most impressive writing and directing debut', and Rolling
Stone, which described it as 'a small gem of a movie'.
Slant Magazine referred to it as 'modest and devastating',
while TV Guide found it 'a rare, unromantic take on female
adolescence as sharp as a razor: It cuts right to the bone'.
Variety stated that it was 'melancholy', and 'insightfully
And if there was any doubt that this wasn't one for the mainstream,
'happy-ending' crowd, then consider the verdict of Film Journal,
which warned that it is 'too lacking in ironic distance for an
indie audience, Blue Car is also too relentless a downer to appeal
to the popcorn crowd'.
The Washington Post, meanwhile, stated that 'we've seen
this unhappy scenario played out many times before, but seldom
with a better eye for detail', while the Boston Globe wrote
that 'it's that central dance between teacher and student that
makes the movie both hard to watch and worth your attention -
a subtle waltz of power in which it's difficult to tell who's
leading until too late'.
The Seattle Times continued the accolades, by writing
that Blue Car is 'a coming-of-age tale acted with such honesty,
and directed with such quiet understanding of its troubled characters,
that its nearly unrelenting grimness takes on a poetic quality'.
And, finally, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that 'from
the rain-streaked windshield to the unaffected line readings from
a stellar cast, there is not a shot in Blue Car that doesn't ring