Adam Rothenberg, Ethan Peck and Mariah Carey, who shines, in TENNESSEE
In Aaron Woodley TENNESSEE, Mariah Carey presents herself as a decidedly real, as opposed to reel, person. She’s put on some pounds and looks and seems absolutely okay with it in the role of Krystal, a Texas coffee shop waitress with aspiring musical ambitions,, stuck in a dead end job and an abusive marriage to a macho jerk of a policeman Ellis (Lance Reddick). When she encounters Ellis (Ethan Peck), who is dying of leukemia and travelling with his adored, but troubled older brother Carter (Adam Rothenberg) to Tennessee to see their alcoholic, abusive, estranged father who may be able to provide them with some necessary bone marrow, she takes pity on their sorry, cash-strapped fates and blows town with them to seek her fortune in Nashville.
Peck and Rothenberg are both okay – attractive guys ready to give their all to the lost, sensitive souls they’re called upon to portray here. Unfortunately, Russell Schaumburg’s script is a sentimental morass of clichés, and Carey brings the only real spark to the material, with her down-to-earth, bittersweet cynicism. This, at least, is not the glossy, laughably trashy campfest that marked her film debut, GLITTER – which will assume roughly the same place in her career that MAHOGANY has in Diana Ross’. She’s probably never slung hash in a greasy spoon in her entire life, but you believe she could have. As the story unfolds, and the chase is on, with Ellis in enraged pursuit of his AWOL wife, Carey builds up such pure and resolute audience empathy that you find yourself rooting for her as surely as anyone did for Lillian Gish when she was imperilled in her D.W. Griffith glory days. It’s just a shame that the one song she has “written” and is given to sing is a lackluster, country affair. It’s pretty enough, but too bland, giving her no chance to set those uncanny pipes of her soaring into the stratosphere. All told, it’s rather fascinating to see her, so subdued, and, although playing a key role, not grandstanding as the big star all over the place, which is rare, indeed, for any diva.