Everyone has their problems. This we are constantly reminded of in Timothy Linh Bui's latest film, Powder Blue. Linh Bui, who both wrote and directed this film, is a newcomer to mainstream film, having previously directed one feature-length film, 2001's Green Dragon.
Powder Blue is the story of a pivotal week in the life of four individuals struggling to keep their lives together. Charlie (Forest Whitaker) is an ex-priest battling suicidal tendencies due to the anguish of losing his wife. Jack (Ray Liotta) is a recently released hit man who recently found out about the cancer in his body. Qwerty (Eddie Redmayne) is an awkward, twenty-something mortician whose asthma acts up when he tries to talk to women. And Rose Johnny (Jessica Biel) is a stripper trying to pay the medical bills of her comatose son. Each is hurting immensely. Each is looking for some glimmer of hope.
This is a strange film in terms of the press that it has been getting. The overwhelming majority of articles and news surrounding this project have narrowly focused on the fact that Jessica Biel has a small handful of topless scenes. In fact, one online site boldly proclaims, "this film is always going to be known for one thing -- Jessica Biel was topless in it." Many other sites which have written pieces on this movie have uniformly dubbed Powder Blue "the Jessica Biel Stripper Movie." Commentary on the hyper-sexualized yet stuck in a 15-year-old boy's body nature of American culture aside, this film is much more than a stripper movie and will hopefully be remembered as a good piece of art, rather than the fact that one of the actors shows some skin.
The core of this film is the nature of love. What is love? How do we find it? What happens when we lose it? Everyone has their problems, but no one should have to face them alone. The characters understand this and each has a deep sense of the need for relationships, they just don't quite know how to pursue real and lasting love. Instead, their pursuit is initially selfish, built on what they themselves can get out of feeling loved and fulfilled in hopes that their problems will all go away. So Qwerty attends functions in hopes of getting a date. Jack attempts to restore and build a relationship with his daughter out of the guilt of never being there for her. Rose Johnny throws herself at men looking for someone to not only financially provide for her and her son, but also to treat her and love her as a woman rather than a piece of meat on a stage. And Charlie, the most desperate of the lot, cries out for help to anyone he can find, propositioning them to end his life for him in exchange for $50,000.
Each must discover, however, that honest love can only be so if both parties give of themselves to each other. Each of these characters must be willing to be vulnerable, to let others see the hurt and struggles that they are going through, and then be willing to let others help them and love them in ways that they never imagined anyone could. But again, this is a two-way street, and they must also be willing to do the same for others, allowing them to be vulnerable as well and to work with them through the pains and trials of life. It's only after each of the characters realize this that they are able to see glimmers of hope and redemption in their otherwise shattered lives.
Powder Blue is a fascinating film. Linh Bui has captured something very real and true about life, a feat which most of Hollywood either avoids or fails miserably at. He shows that life isn't a fairytale, hope doesn't come easily, and, again, everyone has problems. However, he also shows that there is true love out there, that there is hope and redemption even if such comes through the pain and hardships that each of us face in life, if we will only allow others in and allow others to help us through whatever it is we are going through, and be willing to do the same when the chance presents itself.
It is this writer's hope that this is what Powder Blue will be remembered for.