Things are not going well for Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson). He has been living a life right out of a blues song. His wife left him. For his brother.
And now, he has found an almost-naked young woman, badly beaten, outside his house. Things have not been going well for Rae (Christina Ricci) either. She has slept with just about everyone, but the only man she has ever loved is Ronnie (Justin Timberlake) and he has joined the military. Rae is no good at being on her own, and she has an unfortunate tendency to respond to stress by drinking, taking drugs, and having sex. Lazarus lives up to his name by bringing her back to life.
His technique for doing this involves chaining her to his radiator.
It is fair to say this raises some issues — male/female, black/white, sacred/profane for example. And that, too, sounds like a blues song.
The music in the film is terrific — searing, gut-twisting wails of loss and despair. This is a film in which Samuel L. Jackson sings (well) and Justin Timberlake does not. There are some powerful moments, particularly those featuring John Cothran Jr. as a preacher named Reverend R.L. But the characters are — even by blues standards — so over the top that we never feel their connection to us or to each other. A relationship like Lazarus and Rae needs some authentic moments — a confession, exchanges of confidence, a willingness to let each other see them at their best and their worst. But we never get any of that.
The confrontation between Rae and her mother approaches a parody of the long line of Southern slattern films from Baby Doll to Temple Drake. There is nothing approaching the subtle complexity of the relationships in Hustle & Flow, the previous movie from writer/director Craig Brewer. Worst of all, it undermines Lazarus’ attempt to give Rae some dignity and sense of self-worth in its own treatment of her — and of the actress who plays her. The portrayal of Rae
‘s compulsive need for sex and of her always-perfect, always exposed little body (really little, even more troubling given Ricci’s history of anorexia) is exploitive, more trashy than steamy. Rae’s got a right to sing the blues — and this movie is just one more reason why.
Parents should know that this film has extremely mature material that may be offensive even to adults. There are very explicit sexual references and situations, including nudity and promiscuity. Characters drink, smoke, use drugs, and use very strong and crude language, including racial epithets. There is violence, including punching and guns. Strengths of the movie include the portrayal of an inter-racial friendship (with frank acknowledgement of the concerns it could raise in parts of the community) and the portrayal of a sincere and honorable religious leader.
Families who see this movie should talk about why it was important for Lazarus to try to help Rae. What is the significance of his name? Why was Rae so troubled? Why did she care about Ronnie? What is likely to happen to them?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy exploring some of the work of the Southern blues artists featured on the soundtrack, including Son House’s The Original Delta Blues and R.L. Burnside’s A Bothered Mind.