It’s no easy task to figure out at what point “My Own Love Song” transitions from a string of basic mediocrities to hilariously awful contrivances. My own theory is that this happens somewhere between the incoherent split-screen car chase and the animated birds. Others may write it off even earlier than that, pointing out an earlier scene in which Renee Zellweger’s wheelchair-bound character Jane unleashes her warbling and utterly sincere rendition of “This Land” to a room filled with illogically impressed strangers. Finding the most excruciating moments proves challenging, but not as much as simply making it through this unbelievably ill-conceived mess.
The first English language feature of “La Vie en Rose” director Olivier Dahan, “My Own Love Song” places Zellweger opposite Forrest Whittaker as friendly schizophrenic Joey, a man convinced he can see angels and dead people. That means several scenes involve the actor wildly gesticulating to imaginary beings while the rest of the world empowers him with dumbstruck stares. Dahan, however, goes as far as inhabiting his main man’s delusions by providing glimpses of angels drifting through the skies, a special effects indulgence that only exacerbates the movie’s already bogus emotional core. Whittaker, meanwhile, defies the advice of Robert Downey Jr.’s Kirk Lazarus in “Tropic Thunder,” going “full retard” with a hideously trite depiction of psychological dismay marred by overdone tics that eventually veer into unintentional camp.
As with “La Vie en Rose” — a solid biopic enlivened by Marion Cotillard’s Oscar-winner performance as Edith Piaf — Dahan relies on a series of stylistic indulgences that only dig the movie a deeper grave. While the approach benefited from restraint in Dahan’s earlier movie, it seems to never ends here. Zippy shutter speeds and fanciful transitions might work once or twice, but “My Own Love Song” contains a virtually unending array of erratic choices, such as one scene of bizarrely unmotivated camera movement where the POV drifts around one character at the train station before inexplicably wandering over to the snack machine. It’s like Dahan himself needed to take a breather from the downward spiral of his half-formed ideas.
Nevertheless, his sloppy filmmaking strategies would matter little if the script actually supported them. “My Own Love Song” revolves around a convoluted scenario that finds Joey talks Jane into following him on a road trip to Memphis in search of a disingenuous spiritual writer and Jane’s missing child, whom she lost after a car accident left her paralyzed. Their journey leads them through a series of hotels and countryside encounters with colorful (but highly improbable) personalities, including a perverted car thief (Elias Koteas), a lonely young housewife (Madeline Kima) and Nick Nolte — in an inspired but random bit of casting — as a mean bluesman high on pot brownies.
A lot of the movie lingers on Jane’s cranky exterior demeanor and her sense of loss beneath, giving rise to a steady stream of pathos based around sentimental yearning and isolation. Worse, the failure comes not from the lack of nuance in Zellweger’s performance but Dahan’s screenplay, which endows Jane with a useless voiceover narration so she can externalize everything that’s better left unsaid. When an inner monologue almost exclusively contains Hallmark-ready one-liners (“How many trains must you take before you find yourself again?”), somebody has the wrong idea, and it’s not the audience.