Lewellen (Dakota Fanning) is a young girl growing up in 1950’s rural Alabama with dreams of escaping her ordinary existence to become a backup singer for Elvis. However, she is encouraged by her god fearing grandmother (Piper Laurie) to abandon the devil music, lest she become a sinner like her womanizing, abusive, and drunken father (David Morse).
Lewellen’s childhood starts out innocent enough notwithstanding the circumstances. Her mother is gone so she overlooks her Daddy’s irresponsible dalliances, even tolerating one of his lady friends (Robin Wright Penn), who she requests not abandon her in the mediocrity of her life. Lewellen passes her days in the company of Buddy (Cody Hanford) a wimpy neighborhood boy who she manipulates, but whom she really cares about. Naive Buddy wishes to please Lewellen by fulfilling her dream to see Elvis; he orchestrates an exchange; a song and dance for a ticket to see Elvis. However, things go awry, and Lewellen’s shimmy and shake is replaced with subdued despair.
There is no mammy in this film; instead there is Charles (Afemo Omilami), the African American medicine man who knows everyone’s secrets and dreams. Charles recognizes that Lewellen’s spirit has been broken and leads her on the path of healing and self-redemption.
Written, directed and produced by Deborah Kampmeier (2003’s Virgin), the film, despite its issues, does not reek “of feminist fodder”. This coupled with an all star cast, lends potential for greater appeal. Even the lesser known actors offer fine performances. It is anticipated that Dakota Fanning will surprise her fans; the young innocent girl has been replaced by a maturing actress who handles adult subject matter, including rape, with finesse. Unfortunately, it will likely not prove her most memorable film; notwithstanding the performances, the characters were not very likable or sympathetic. Of notable mention, David Morse while barely recognizable as Lewellen’s Daddy, proves that he is just as capable of portraying a bumbling idiot as he is his widely recognized and typical role of intimidating character in feature films.
What redeems this film is its music; Meshell Ndegeocello is the talent behind the film’s score. Highlighted by the soulful sounds of Jill Scott, the music helps steer attention
to the film that might otherwise be dismissed in its first half.