"To Write Love On Her Arms" Is To Take Her At Face Value Review

All this is for me?

Renee (Kat Dennings) is an imaginative and special person with a couple of very close friends Dylan (Mark Saul) and Jessie (Juliana Harkavy). She's been diagnosed with Bipolar disorder and is barely managing her demons when a terrible incident leads her into a two year vicious death spiral of addiction, abuse, and self harm. When things hit rock bottom in Daytona, Renee gets back in touch with Dylan and Jessie. This leads her to Dylan's boss, David McKenna (Rupert Friend), who is a recovering addict and alcoholic. Together, they try to get Renee into rehab, but they won't take her until she detoxes. So, for the next five days, Dylan, Jessie, David, and his friend Jamie help her stay clean.

To Write Love on Her Arms (2012) is surprisingly well made and well cast for what one might categorize a "message" film. Renee's imagination and artistic qualities come through the use of integrated animation and fantasy sequences (both positive and negative). The performances from Dennings and Friend--if you haven't seen Starred Up (2014), you have to change that as soon as possible--are terrific. The subject matter is pretty tough. There are moments where the screenplay Kate King Lynch bends a bit too far into histrionics (when the drama speaks for itself), but for the most part delivers its message as subtly as could be hoped for. Then comes the sequence where the film discovers its title and is the raison d'être of the whole enterprise: Jaime writes a blog post that turns into a non-profit organization that helps talk to people at risk.

Right now, I'm struggling with cynicism. Not because of the film, To Write Love on Her Arms or the organization after which it is named, but founder Jamie Tworkowski as played by Chad Michael Murray. Murray's character, unlike Tworkowski himself, is very familiar to me. This guy, his face, his earnestness, his vague Christianity, everything reminds me of the kind of slightly seedy Southern youth pastor, strumming out that acoustic guitar and soliciting prayers because he can't really help. Murray looks a lot like Jason Stackhouse from True Blood (2008-14). He's a pretty small part of the movie, but, like the character, seems to absorb the moving story about Renee Yohe and make it entirely about himself. At one point, Yohe jokes about his job as a surfboard salesman and he says, "It's a real job. I work at an office." It's such a real job, in fact, that he drops it almost instantly to run a non-profit and sell T-shirts--which the film suggests he had designed and advertised concurrently with writing the blog post. Add to that, the promotional use of basic emo-pop like Coldplay, and I'm trapped by the earnest, upper-middle class, faux hip scene that reeks of philanthropic dilettantism. Where's Bono?

I'm giving far too many words to what is a quiet niggle in the back of my mind about what is otherwise a very solid movie that doesn't degrade itself by giving a pat, everything's-gonna-be-alright ending. If good is done, then that's enough surely. But we need to give our support and attention to Renee, not to the bureaucracy eating up that support in overhead. We have to recognize and help the people in our lives and even, if you're strong enough and wise enough, strangers. There's a character, played by Corbin Bleu, who leads Renee to Daytona where she gets stoned and is raped. Later, he sees her again when she's detoxing and cheerily offers to take her to get some coke. The third time he sees her, he's wearing the TWLOHA T-shirt. He's still her buddy, they laugh about being clean, and that's it. This guy enabled her, led her to a terrible place in her life, and could easily have gotten her killed, but now he's got the T-shirt.

Bonus features

Deleted scenes, making-of featurette, "Music in the Movie", character profiles, on set blogs, and a "First Look"

"To Write Love on Her Arms" is on sale March 3, 2015 and is rated PG13. Drama. Directed by Nathan Frankowski. Written by Kate King Lynch. Starring Kat Dennings, Rupert Friend.

Jason Ratigan • Staff Writer

A lawyer-turned-something-else with a strong appreciation for film and television.  He knows he can't read every great book ever written, but seeing every good movie ever made is absolutely doable.  Check out his other stuff on Wordpress.


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