At Least There's Emmy Rossum
With Nola, long-time New York attorney-turned-moviemaker Alan Hruska gives us his debut effort, a movie he calls his homage to the "golden age" of film. His exposure to the great movies and stars of the 1940s and 1950s fueled his passion for film and storytelling. But after watching Nola, any ideas that Hruska might become the next John Grisham can be put to rest.
Nola (Emmy Rossum) is a troubled young girl who flees her abusive home life in Kansas to try her hand as a songwriter in New York City. After spending her first night in Central Park, she finds work as a waitress at a greasy spoon where she is befriended by the diner's fry cook Ben (James Badge Dale), a law student who gives her a place to stay, but more importantly, who enlightens her in the ways of the "mean streets". Nola's youthful exuberance and wide-eyed charm catch the eye of Margaret (Mary McDonnell), the diner's owner who doubles as a local madam. Margaret offers the desperate Nola a job – as her personal assistant.
Up to this point, the story is very enchanting, and I really began to feel for the unjaded Nola. Her big over-sized eyes and beautifully innocent face begged for my sympathy. Rossum has that same palpable charm and magnetism that made Audrey Tatou so convincing in the magical Amelie. Although the premise is nothing unique or original – troubled girl leaves small town for big city – Hruska has me hooked and I'm genuinely interested in seeing how things play out.
His story begins to lose credence however, as Margaret's "business" runs into legal trouble. One of her better clients, a cutthroat media mogul named Niles Sternlicht (Thom Christopher), threatens revenge after getting roughed up by one of Margaret's transgendered call girls. A tedious legal battle ensues and Nola convinces Margaret to hire fry cook/law student Ben to represent her interests in the imbroglio.
Am I asking too much when I expect a seasoned lawyer to be able to concoct a captivating, or at the very least, convincing courtroom scene? What follows is neither. In fact, the latter half of Nola becomes so contemptible and so derisory that it only manages to undermine any credibility Hruska had garnered for himself up to this point.
His personal connection with films of a bygone age and his attempt to pay tribute to them are indeed noble efforts. But where old Cooper, Bogart and Hepburn movies made a pact and rewarded you with genuine satisfaction, Hruska's attempt to deliver a happy ending with Nola seems way too forced; almost to the point of being embarrassing.
From the aspect of film production, Nola looks good for a low budget affair. The use of actual New York City street scenes, complete with intransigent traffic, adds a genuine authenticity to the experience. The film is one of a few movie productions shot in all five boroughs of New York.
Not much good comes from watching this film, but at least it's a pleasure to see the work of Emmy Rossum. Her vivaciousness and raw ability really illuminate the screen. Although most of the moments she shares with co-star James Badge Dale work seamlessly, it's when she's on the screen by herself that her talents really become evident. Especially her singing voice in one scene near the end of the movie in which she performs a solo. I expect big things from her; she's that good!
(Released by Fireworks Pictures and rated "R" for language and some sexual content.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.