Walk Away Renee

Critics' pick

Jonathan Caouette was the beautiful blond boy in his directorial debut, the self-examining Tarnation (2003), a curious kid who screamed, twirled, playacted and came to grips with the mental deterioration of his mother, Renee. The impact of that creative documentary—a high-water mark of millennial dislocation—is still being felt, not least by Caouette himself, who appears to have struggled to mount a follow-up. Walk Away Renee is his return to the subject: Renee has fallen further into a multimedicated haze of unpredictability. She’s prone to blasts of profanity or sitting down on busy city sidewalks, while Caouette, ever the dutiful son, sees his patience tested not just by her,
but by well-meaning doctors whose reticence in refilling heavy-duty prescriptions drives him to panic.

No filmmaker, especially one this compassionate, should be criticized for mining a rich vein over two efforts. Still, Caouette hasn’t gone as deep this time, alternately recapping the events of Tarnation in segments that feel too long and taking his mother on a U-Haul road trip from Texas to New York, a journey that lacks variation. More money enables the movie to achieve some phantasmagorical flourishes‚ including a trippy bathtub scene with a wormhole straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. These seem beside the point. The way forward, both in Caouette’s real-life situation and his development as an artist, remains unclear, yet that frustration makes it to the screen, in spiky waves that signal a vital personal quest.

Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf

Release details

Duration: 90 mins

Cast and crew

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