Sunday, May 6, 2007

Making Come Early Morning: A Story of Two Broads

Hyphenate Joey Lauren Adams (musician/actress/writer/director), whom I've loved since she serenaded Eric Stolz' poker game on a ukelele back in Sleep With Me, presented her film Come Early Morning, which I've championed since I caught its premiere at Sundance 2006. Here's what I wrote about the film back then:

Maybe it's the slightly Lifetime TV subject matter of her film, but something about first-time director Joey Lauren Adam's Come Early Morning brings out the inner tabloid writer: Finally, finally, poor Ashley Judd crawls out from under the long, grizzled shadow of Morgan Freeman to shine in the sunlight of (wait for it) Early Morning....

In sooth, because it so fully fleshes out its portrait of a working-class alcoholic woman, Come Early Morning deserves significantly less glibness. And from its opening shots, it's clear that Judd, puffy eyes squinting in too-bright sunlight, mouth twisted in a battle between defiance and self-reproach, finally delivers the versatile, fierce performance she's had in her all along. (Maybe because she is finally free of Morgan Freeman's long, grizzled shadow).

Set in a small Arkansas town where everybody not only knows your name but your drink of choice, Lucy Knowles (Judd) is highly relied upon but not exactly nourished. She lives in a world of aunts and uncles and nanas and drinking buddies; of new and old country tunes blasting from jukeboxes; of quiet nights punctured by breaking beer bottles; of saturday nights spent line-dancing, and of small, well-kept country kitchens. She mediates her grandparents' fierce squabbles, chauffeurs her great-grandmother to her abusive great-grandfather's grave, campaigns unsuccessfully for affection from her stoney-faced drunk of a dad, swigs shots, and beds random men at the local bar. She is also an accomplished contractor and the sort of broad who insists she plans to put the dog she rescued to sleep, even though everyone knows she won't. Like most alcoholics, Lucy is competent in some areas of her life and a train wreck in others, and Adams diligently depicts that full range.

It feels important that although the twin towers of Church and Sin reign supreme in this film, such Southern cliches as salt-of-the-earth characters with cartoony accents do not in this distinctly un-hokey Arkansas community. Where Come Early Morning breaks most ground, though, is in allowing Lucy to evolve without evolving out of her surroundings; the image of a protagonist zooming away against the big sky sinks nearly every movie about small towns but this one. Instead, Lucy pursues the business of coming into her own — starting her own business, separating out her own crap from others' — with her feet planted firmly in Southern soil.

Come Early Morning is rich with good things, even if it lays them on a little thick when it comes to spelling out Why She Suffers. A few less scenes of the nanas' weak-sister wisdom would have been fine, for example. But the old honky-tonk is glorious, as are the finely honed shots of wide-planked porches and starry country nights and unspoken regrets. Together, Judd and Adams have crafted an authentic, clear-sighted film that does their region proud.

And I still feel the same except it's more deftly edited than I remembered. (I assumed it was a different cut, but Joey assured me it was the same one, so I think Sundancennui had just messed up my judgment last time round.)

Afterward, I had the opportunity to talk with Joey along with co-actor Scott Wilson, whose withholding dad contrasts strongly with his true warmth. It must be said that Joey may have made her name portraying chicks for such directors as Richard Linklater and Kevin Smith (most legendarily as the dyke who flipped and then flipped again in Chasing Amy) but she's a broad through and through, with a scratchy, squeaky voice and supercheeky grin that only highlights her fluent intelligence. And, thankfully, she's also an easily interview.

Her impetus for writing the film, she said, was that she was tired of whining about the dearth of decent parts for actresses of a certain age. (Actually, she told a far juicier story that involved two horticultururalists in an LA bar on a Tuesday night, but I'll leave that to your imagination. ) Once she opted to direct the screenplay she'd written, she knew she wouldn't do the project justice if she played Lucy as well, so Ashley Judd "seemed like the natural choice."

When the two met to discuss the part, they realized that they were so fully on the same page that a spoken conversation would've been redundant so they drank cups of tea instead. "Working with Ashley was spiritual," Adams said with none of the self-effacement many both-coasters might've affected. (These days, she's based in Oxford, Mississippi.) Indeed, throughout the conversation as throughout the film, she addressed religion — Christianity, specifically — with a respect reflected in the film. Refreshing, to say the least.

I mentioned that Judd had never looked more beautiful and less glamorous, and Adams nodded. "She showed up with grey streaks in her hair and requested that we keep them, which I was so happy about. She also showed up with the weight, and we didn't talk about it. I was so glad we were on the same page." I noticed at that point many women exchange glances with each other in the audience, and I couldn't help nodding at them. Judd looked as sinewy and lean as most women never do even in their wildest dreams — I never would have thought she'd gained even five pounds had Adams not made that comment. Guess some aspects of Hollywood are harder to banish than others.

Getting backing (an unknown Russian element with an aspiring-actress girlfriend was mentioned) proved easier than achieving distribution, she acknowledged. At that point, one of the few student-aged men in their audience piped up to ask her out for a drink.

Adams handled it like the classy broad that she is. "Technically, I should be offended that you are treating a female director like this, but I would like to know when and where." Put'em in his place and make a bawdy joke in one swell foop: Sadie Thompson herself would've been proud.


Vladimir said...

I am so disappointed that Ms. Rosman did not get the point of that student's comment toward Ms. Adams. He paid her numerous compliments regarding her film and told her that on behalf of everyone there, he would like to see more of her as a writer and director. Then, he made a joke and paid her another compliment when he asked her out for a drink. It was out of best intentions and everyone loved the gesture. It is obvious that Ms. Rosman has no clue what she is talking about.

f4phantom11 said...

Mrs. Rosman you are a dyke. You have no idea what happened that day because I was there. You totally misinterpreted what that kid said. Go eat some pussy.

Dan S said...

Of course it was inappropriate to ask her out in front of a 1,000 people, regardless of how much he likes her and her work. The request did not seem like a joke to me. It seemed like a frat boy wanting to get lucky with a movie star who had quite vulnerably revealed her wild side for all to see. To put her in the position of answering such a question in such a public setting was a no-win situation, but she somehow pulled it off.

I understand he thought he was complimenting her by asking her out. But, as we've seen with other issues in this town (e.g., Chief Illiniwek), intending to show respect and achieving it are very different things.

And, phantom, you are only embarrasing yourself with your cowardly, anonymous attacks

Carmen said...

I question the intimate audience that views this blog as being quite biased, but would like to comment nonetheless.

First off, it has to be disappointing that the only comments posted in response to the film are directed at a (clever) question/joke, and not at the film itself. But I too was in attendance for the film and question session thereafter.

The joke the young gentlemen asked was quite relevant to the film. The films action is dominated by a bar. The bar itself is an extension of the main character. So, to add a joke about a drink in a bar is not inappropriate considering.
Further, Ms Adams herself repeatedly open the doors to the common ground established over 'drinks'. Her story about drinking with the unknown fans and inviting them for afterhours as well as her interest in drinking with Union members on the set, shows that she does not consider herself above her fans, and is inviting to the realm of the social-bar scene.

I especially find humorous the stereotypes attached to the 'frat guy' who dreams of 'getting lucky' with a movie star. First, I would assume that frat guys are not the only ones who dream this, and second, I too would assume that the opportunity to socialize with a movie star is the motive. Ms Adams quite clearly separated herself from the elitist industry which gasps at the thought of socializing with their audiences. I think that this allowed the young man to work into his question the chance for such an invite.

I would hope that in the presence of a film with comedic implications, a question regarding it could entertain comedic implications.

Dan S said...

Fair enough, Carmen, and thanks for bringing some civility to the discourse :) I agree that it is a good thing that Adams seems to be open to socializing with her audience.

And yes, we probably all fantasize about hanging out with movie stars. But not all of us decide to put them in difficult public situations. My objection is the public nature of the request, and that it wasn't a meant as a joke. How is she supposed to respond? It would have been different if he had flagged her down outside the Virginia, but I think he put her in a very uncomfortable position.

Another way to think of this: The movie was about a woman who spends too much time in bars and too much time having random sex. Adams implied this is a reflection of herself. Does it really seem appropriate for someone to ask her out for drinks after bearing herself like that? If we exaggerate this a bit, if the movie were solely about an alcoholic who learns to not be so self-destructive (and based on the director's life), would it be appropriate for someone to say how much they enjoyed the movie and how much they respect the directory, and then ask the director out for a drink?