"For Ellen" Nearing September Release

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A struggling musician takes an overnight long-distance drive in order to fight his estranged wife for custody of their young daughter.
Photo Credit: Tribeca Films
August 29th, 2012

"For Ellen" Nearing September Release

-- Many movies get entered into the Sundance Film Festival each winter in the hopes that a studio or distributor will pick them up and give them a theatrical release. While some already have distribution, most of the films screened there do not. "For Ellen" was one of the films that was completed and getting solid buzz but did not have a release date. By the time the annual film festival ended, it still did not have a distributor.

For several weeks, the film, written and directed by Korean auteur So Yong Kim, was in danger of never being seen by the public. Critics who had been fortunate enough to get tickets to the Sundance screening were upset that the world would not be able to see the powerful performance of Paul Dano as Joby Taylor, a successful musician with a terrible attitude.

Dano is in nearly every scene of the film, carrying it on his back like Atlas. He portrays Joby as a real jerk who isn't happy with the fact that he can tour and make a living as a musician. He wants to be a full-on rock star, and he already has the jerky mannerisms that are associated with some rock stars. He is occasionally mean and mentally abusive to his girlfriend Susan (Jenna Malone) and even more so to his estranged wife, Claire (Margarita Levieva).

Claire wants to be done with Joby in her life, but she thinks it is nearly impossible because of their daughter, Ellen (Shaylena Mandigo). Together, she and her shark of a divorce attorney come up with a solution. Joby wants to sell the house they shared together, so he can get his share of the proceeds in cash. Claire offers him the house outright, but he has to sign away all rights to see young Ellen.

Joby is the definition of an absentee father, barely even acknowledging that he has procreated at all. Despite this, the revelation that he could lose all contact with Ellen hits him like a ton of bricks. He desperately calls Claire and asks to see Ellen in an attempt to figure out if he really could spend the rest of his life without her in it. Claire agrees, hoping that he will be the same chilly, absent father that he has always been, which would likely result in him signing the papers. Both Claire and Joby are rolling the dice here, and poor Ellen is unwittingly caught in the middle.

This film is not the usual formulaic custody battle story. It is heartfelt and features great performances across the board, especially from Dano. In five years, he has gone as the mute teenager in "Little Miss Sunshine" who barely said a word until the end of the movie to having the lion's hare of the lines in "For Ellen." It is a huge leap that shows how far he has come as an actor, and how far he could go if Hollywood executives would give him the chance.

One movie executive who wants to give Dano that chance is Robert De Niro, Dano's costar in "Being Flynn." The two played father and son in a tempestuous relationship that brought out great performances from both. It is unknown whether De Niro's Tribeca Film company bought the distribution rights to "For Ellen" because of his past relationship with Dano or because he really just loves the movie. Either way, it doesn't matter, since the film's rights were scooped up in May 2012, several months after Sundance ended.

The last-minute reprieve for the film was good news all around. It was announced that the film would get a limited release on September 5, 2012 in a handful of theaters in New York City. Two weeks later, viewers in some others areas like Denver would get a chance to see it in theaters when the release went a little wider. Those who are not lucky enough to live in one of the limited release areas can access the film for a rental fee via Video on Demand (VOD) platforms.

The fact that it will be available on VOD means that a much wider audience will have access to the film. Most indie films that are given a limited release don't end up being available to the majority of the country until after they are released on DVD or Blu-ray. VOD is allowing viewers to see these powerful independent films months before a home-video release. This means more people get to see Dano shine and get to sit on tenterhooks to see if Joby will choose his house over his child.