by Jason Coffman
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As a filmgoer, seeing too many references to other films in the promotion for a particular movie almost always sets off red flags. Either the comparisons are completely incorrect, or they set expectations much higher than the film can actually deliver. So it was with some apprehension that I approached Bloomington, as its press materials mentioned another film called Loving Annabelle multiple times. Sure enough, the comparison really doesn’t stick: while the two films share similar themes and storylines, Bloomington comes off as a less interesting version of Loving Annabelle.
Sarah Stouffer plays Jackie, a young actress who heads for college in the Midwest after the popular science fiction series in which she starred is canceled. The audience is probably supposed to find Jackie a little aloof but endearing, but unfortunately the character zooms past “somewhat awkward” and directly into “spoiled brat.” Jackie has zero tolerance for anyone who mentions her television show past, then complains to her mother that she’s having trouble making friends. One friend she makes very quickly is Catherine (Allison McAtee), an attractive teacher with a reputation for bedding students. Jackie and Catherine meet at a school mixer seemingly days after the semester starts and, after a very brief conversation, Catherine takes Jackie home to spend the night.
One of the major problems with Bloomington is its pacing and sense of time. The way the film is structured, it literally looks like Jackie starts school one day, spends the night with Catherine a couple of days later, and has completely moved in with her right away. This begs many questions: why doesn’t anyone notice the famous freshman who got a special single room never uses it (much to the annoyance of the RA who shows Jackie the room when she moves in)? Is it really not a big deal at all that a professor and a student are carrying on such a brazen affair? Jackie and Catherine don’t seem to have all that much in common, either, except for a similar disdain for most all other human beings.
Including, as it turns out, each other. When Jackie gets a call to audition to reprise her role from the television series, Catherine snaps and begins treating Jackie like an unwanted houseguest. Jackie alienates Catherine by inviting her to a party thrown by one of the film’s producers but not explaining their relationship to the other party guests, and she gets a vicious (and well-deserved) slap across the face from her mother after mouthing off to her family during a holiday dinner. These two lead characters are just not likeable in any way: Catherine is desperate and clingy but verbally abusive, Jackie is simply a spoiled rich kid who goes completely Billy Bob Thornton whenever things don’t go exactly the way she wants. This makes it really difficult for the audience to get too invested in their relationship, which is a deadly misstep for a film entirely about that relationship.
Loving Annabelle, directed by Katherine Brooks, is similarly about a teacher/student attraction. However, the specifics are what make all the difference: instead of taking place at a large public college, the action takes place in a small Catholic girls’ school. Annabelle is a rebellious teenage girl, the daughter of a prominent local politician, and Simone, the teacher Annabelle works toward seducing over the course of the film, is deeply closeted and has spent her entire life at the school. The stakes in their relationship are very high, and the film’s languid pacing allows the audience plenty of time to learn about the characters and understand how they come to the point where they are willing to risk everything for each other. While Simone and Annabelle are certainly not perfect, they are at least fully-rounded characters with whom the viewer can identify.
Nothing seems to be at stake in the central relationship of Bloomington, especially given the way things turn out. Not to spoil anything, but neither Jackie nor Catherine seem to come out of the experience having learned anything or changed in any significant way. Loving Annabelle managed exactly the opposite in barely over 70 minutes, while Bloomington races through its plot and still leaves hardly any impression at over 90 minutes. Promoting a film by invoking another film is inviting the audience to choose which is the better use of time, and in this case the clear-cut winner is Loving Annabelle.
Wolfe Video will release Bloomington on DVD 3 May 2011.
Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He writes reviews for Film Monthly and “The Crown International Files” for Criticplanet.org.
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