Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: Walk Away Renee

Less a sequel than an extension of Jonathan Caouette's brilliant Tarnation, this follow-up covers too little fresh ground.

Nov 27, 2012

-By David Rooney


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1368148-Walk_Away_Renee_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

In his innovative 2004 debut feature Tarnation, made on an iMac mostly out of years' worth of home movies and photographic material, Jonathan Caouette forged a new kind of pop-poetic memoir. The film was a cathartic exploration of his emergence as a gay man, and of his determined struggle to remain the one constant in the life of his mentally and emotionally unstable mother. That struggle clearly is ongoing, but revisiting the subject in Walk Away Renee yields far less consistent rewards.

Given the unconventional personalities around which the films are woven, it's tempting to compare Caouette's companion piece to what Albert Maysles did in 2006 with The Beales of Grey Gardens. That belated afterthought to Grey Gardens, the landmark cinéma-vérité documentary he made 31 years earlier with his late brother David Maysles, unearthed a wealth of unseen footage.

There was no shortage of fascinating material, and there are doubtless enough Edith/Edie cultists to ensure a DVD life for the second installment. But returning to a private world that has already been so beguilingly accessed can be deflating, even banal. As different as they are in style, superior personal documentary portraits like Grey Gardens or Tarnation provide a sense of intimate discovery that inevitably is missing on second acquaintance.

The primary reason for Caouette's new chapter is a cross-country trip he took with his 58-year-old mother, Renee Leblanc, who suffers from acute bipolar and schizoaffective disorder. In and out of psychiatric facilities for most of her life, she endured a prolonged period of shock treatments as a teenager. When her condition deteriorated in 2010, Caouette packed her up in a U-Haul truck to move her from Houston to an assisted living facility in Rhinebeck, New York, closer to his home. But the loss en route of Renee's 30-day medication supply causes major problems, sparking a frustrating odyssey of calls to medical professionals.

Where Tarnation careened off on crazy pop-cultural tangents to show the influences that helped shape Caouette as a gay adolescent, Walk Away Renee delves into rudimentary sci-fi territory.

There's a silly bit early on in which Caouette has supposedly been contacted by a crackpot group called Cloudbusters to shoot an outreach video (tacked onto the end credits) spreading the word about their theories concerning the fourth dimension. There's also talk of the universal healing energy carried in cloud movement. Later, a TV report on alternate universes unleashes a blast of psychedelic digital effects to convey mind-warping escape.

Caouette certainly knows how to manipulate images and sound, painting on a vibrantly textured, semi-experimental canvas. But aside from visual stimulation set to some cool music, none of the fictional stuff adds much.

There are many disarming, unguarded moments between mother and son, and the film is most affecting when Renee's increasingly off-the-rails behavior causes Caouette to turn back the clock to earlier episodes in their lives. These experiences will no doubt always remain raw for him, and continuing to process them through his films may be his means of growing as an artist. It also may be necessary for him in order to stay sane, anchored and committed to loving someone so difficult to handle.

It's problematic, however, that we learn very little here that wasn't more stirringly conveyed in the earlier film. In its mesmerizing, propulsive drive, Tarnation was a heartfelt scramble to make sense of messy lives. Walk Away Renee is an occasionally illuminating patchwork.
The Hollywood Reporter


Film Review: Walk Away Renee

Less a sequel than an extension of Jonathan Caouette's brilliant Tarnation, this follow-up covers too little fresh ground.

Nov 27, 2012

-By David Rooney


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1368148-Walk_Away_Renee_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

In his innovative 2004 debut feature Tarnation, made on an iMac mostly out of years' worth of home movies and photographic material, Jonathan Caouette forged a new kind of pop-poetic memoir. The film was a cathartic exploration of his emergence as a gay man, and of his determined struggle to remain the one constant in the life of his mentally and emotionally unstable mother. That struggle clearly is ongoing, but revisiting the subject in Walk Away Renee yields far less consistent rewards.

Given the unconventional personalities around which the films are woven, it's tempting to compare Caouette's companion piece to what Albert Maysles did in 2006 with The Beales of Grey Gardens. That belated afterthought to Grey Gardens, the landmark cinéma-vérité documentary he made 31 years earlier with his late brother David Maysles, unearthed a wealth of unseen footage.

There was no shortage of fascinating material, and there are doubtless enough Edith/Edie cultists to ensure a DVD life for the second installment. But returning to a private world that has already been so beguilingly accessed can be deflating, even banal. As different as they are in style, superior personal documentary portraits like Grey Gardens or Tarnation provide a sense of intimate discovery that inevitably is missing on second acquaintance.

The primary reason for Caouette's new chapter is a cross-country trip he took with his 58-year-old mother, Renee Leblanc, who suffers from acute bipolar and schizoaffective disorder. In and out of psychiatric facilities for most of her life, she endured a prolonged period of shock treatments as a teenager. When her condition deteriorated in 2010, Caouette packed her up in a U-Haul truck to move her from Houston to an assisted living facility in Rhinebeck, New York, closer to his home. But the loss en route of Renee's 30-day medication supply causes major problems, sparking a frustrating odyssey of calls to medical professionals.

Where Tarnation careened off on crazy pop-cultural tangents to show the influences that helped shape Caouette as a gay adolescent, Walk Away Renee delves into rudimentary sci-fi territory.

There's a silly bit early on in which Caouette has supposedly been contacted by a crackpot group called Cloudbusters to shoot an outreach video (tacked onto the end credits) spreading the word about their theories concerning the fourth dimension. There's also talk of the universal healing energy carried in cloud movement. Later, a TV report on alternate universes unleashes a blast of psychedelic digital effects to convey mind-warping escape.

Caouette certainly knows how to manipulate images and sound, painting on a vibrantly textured, semi-experimental canvas. But aside from visual stimulation set to some cool music, none of the fictional stuff adds much.

There are many disarming, unguarded moments between mother and son, and the film is most affecting when Renee's increasingly off-the-rails behavior causes Caouette to turn back the clock to earlier episodes in their lives. These experiences will no doubt always remain raw for him, and continuing to process them through his films may be his means of growing as an artist. It also may be necessary for him in order to stay sane, anchored and committed to loving someone so difficult to handle.

It's problematic, however, that we learn very little here that wasn't more stirringly conveyed in the earlier film. In its mesmerizing, propulsive drive, Tarnation was a heartfelt scramble to make sense of messy lives. Walk Away Renee is an occasionally illuminating patchwork.
The Hollywood Reporter
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Kingdom of Dreams and Madness
Film Review: The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness

Venture inside the hallowed hallways of Japan's most prestigious animation studio in this insightful documentary. More »

Antarctica: A  Year On Ice
Film Review: Antarctica: A Year on Ice

Thrilling, award-winning New Zealand doc about the mysterious and forbidding continent at the bottom of the world is not your usual travelogue, but a surprising exploration of the human soul and human needs. Happily, adorable penguins and stunning visuals also get screen time. More »

Remote Area Medical
Film Review: Remote Area Medical

Doc offers in-the-trenches evidence of dire need in the U.S. health-care system. More »

Immortalists
Film Review: The Immortalists

Attention-grabbing subject meets colorful characters in this science doc. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Penguins of Madagascar
Film Review: Penguins of Madagascar

Frenetic vehicle for supporting players from the Madagascar films will entertain kids but prove a little wearying for their parents. More »

imitation game
Film Review: The Imitation Game

Terrific biopic about world-class mathematician and social misfit Alan Turing, who, in spite of a painful struggle with his homosexuality, helped the Allies break the code of the Nazis' Enigma machine. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here