TENNESSEE is a minimalist film: there is very little dialogue, not a lot of movement, not a huge climax. It just happens and while it is happening it changes you. Though it is a small budget film it makes a big impact, making us wish that there were more films like this to counterbalance all the big over the top bonanzas that seem to rule the theater circuit. It is gently written (by Russell Schaumburg), sensitive directed by Aaron Woodley, and acted with honesty by a fine young cast.
Ellis (Ethan Peck, definitely an actor on the rise) and Carter (Adam Rothenberg (ditto) are brothers; their mother is dead and their father has a history of abusing the boys to the point that Ellis and Carter no longer see him. Ellis is a photographer by hobby, taking photographs of mountains and landscapes in their Tennessee small town: Carter drinks too much but looks after his younger brother. Ellis is diagnosed as having leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant - Carter offers but despite being siblings the match is not adequate. The brothers set out on a trip to be together and end up in New Mexico. But soon they are on the road again and in Texas they pause at a diner where they meet Krystal (Mariah Carey) waiting tables, but preferring to write songs. Seeing that the brothers have no money, Krystal takes them home - she is married to an alcoholic Texas Ranger Frank (Lance Reddick) who routinely beats her and demands that the 'freeloaders' be gone in the morning. The next morning the three of them take the car and head to Tennessee - the boys have decided that Ellis' only hope is to find their father to see if he is a candidate to donate bone marrow. The three are chased by Frank until they finally reach Tennessee where, for need of cash, Krystal sings in a nightclub contest and captures the audience's approval while she now has money to give to the brothers to find their father.
How these disparate, desperate people come together emotionally and the manner in which the story ends may seem too pat for some, but for viewers with vulnerable hearts this little film will be fulfilling. Each of the cast is excellent, but it is such a pleasure to see Mariah Carey in a role that merits her talent and find that she handles it so well is rewarding. It is a small story with a huge heart. Grady Harp, December 10