By Jeremy Mathews | September 27, 2005

Despite a grand effort to make significant observations about its characters, “Forty Shades of Blue” suffers from a severe lack of insight. It’s a sure sign that a film is in trouble when the only character with any presence is a complete jerk. More time should have been spent developing (or at least creating) the main characters’ personalities.

Set in Memphis, the story centers around the Russian live-in girlfriend, Laura (Dina Korzun), and estranged son, Michael (Darren E. Burrows), of a music industry legend who is brilliant in his art but inept at everything else. Michael comes to town for an award his father is receiving, but is late and misses the ceremony. Once there, he watches Laura, Laura watches him, they talk and sense a connection that isn’t really felt through the characters or performances but suggested because it’s obviously part of the plot formula.

Michael is a boring angst-ridden character, and it’s hard to see any chemistry between him and, well, anyone. He is grumpy and understandably doesn’t like his father, but the screenplay might garner more sympathy for him if he ever said or did anything interesting. Even as an angry drunk, he’s unexciting.

The movie isn’t a complete failure, however. As the music legend, Rip Torn creates a man who would like to be a good person, but would rather accept whatever whims of anger or sex come his way. Director and co-writer Ira Sachs creates a restrained visual style, communicating his characters’ unease with compositions that place people on the extreme edges of one side of the frame, sometimes cutting off part of their faces. But repetitive interaction between characters in an aimless story can’t hold up the film’s weight, and it eventually collapses on its noble attempt to capture life’s frustrations and compromises.

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