Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”

It takes a certain love of words to get the most out of this picture. It takes a belief that wit is a redemptive virtue, that artful language can cast a magic spell on even the dullest scene. That's not to suggest that the rest of this film is lacking or that the script doesn't have its blemishes, but just to emphasize the best thing about this film, the pleasure it takes with its words, both original and quoted. Combine that with the quirky, half-cocked charm of backwater Nawlins and you have a film that could be called "Wonder Boys" meets "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," except that both of those films were low-key comedies, and this is a mournful drama. Whatever you want to call it, it's one of the best and most pleasing films to have slipped by unnoticed during the Oscar season.

I have grown so weary of critics for whom sincerity is a cause for snickering. However calculated its plotline may be, this film attempts to evoke authentic emotion and authentic Southern flavor, and should be judged on the success or failure of these attempts, not derided for aspiring to them. How boring the movies would be if the best ones were incapable of touching us for lack of trying. Here's a real old-fashioned Movie, made for viewers who don't let suspicions of artifice spoil the fun of a good yarn, who enjoy the precision exposure of a key plot twist instead of patting themselves on the back for guessing it in advance. This film is not made for, and should probably be skipped by, viewers who would rather a film be hip than be honest.

To the rest, I cannot recommend this enough. If Scarlett Johansson is beginning to repeat the same "tics" from other films, she's still capable of virtuosity in her big dramatic scenes. John Travolta, tired of having zero street cred after whoring out his talent for so many paychecks, is eager to get back into a real character, and seems to relish every well-turned line. Elliot Davis's photography seems to make the New Orleans of our imaginings come to life, and his collages of colorful neighborhoods are well used as bookends for the film. Best of all is Grayson Capps's arrangement of music for the film, contributing half of it himself; his choices raise the film's spirits and strengthen its sense of place. This is a rare treat, a film in possession of full body, mind, and soul.

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