This 2008 festival favorite comes with a curious pedigree. It’s based on an E.L. Doctorow New Yorker short story. In Doctorow’s elegant prose, it’s an emotionally detached tale that covers ten years in 29 pages. On screen, it’s female-empowerment that meanders into exploitation, and is never completely successful as either. Jessica Chastain is the title character who’s married at 15 in South Carolina and soon finds herself a widow. The picaresque plot follows her as she heads west and runs across a sexual predator at virtually every turn from prison guard to tattoo artist to spoiled rich boy. The only nice guy in her life is a Las Vegas gambler nicely played by Chazz Palminteri. Director Dan Ireland also made the well-regarded Whole Wide World. He got an excellent performance from his star, but the whole film is unbalanced, uneven and too long.
(115 min. Rated R for sexual content, language, brief nudity.)