Florida Film Festival 2012: RENEE

By Samir Mathur
Contributing writer
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For all my Film Festival coverage, look for the tag FFF2012

RENEE opens the 21st annual Florida Film Festival, playing at 7pm at Regal Winter Park Village, tomorrow (4/13). (Details)

RENEE is an excellent curtain-raiser for this year's Festival, as it's shot entirely in Orlando, telling the Orlando-based story of a young lady from Orlando and a central-Florida based organization. It's the story of Renee Yohe, whose battles with addiction inspired To Write Love On Her Arms, a non-profit that has helped thousands of young people in similarly dark circumstances. To its credit, the film does well to stay 'on message' as it were, by spending a relatively short time showing the "descent", and the majority of the film showing the recovery process. It doesn't glamorize drugs, but shows pretty starkly how damaging they can be.

The movie, directed by Nathan Frankowski (best known for the critically-reviled intelligent design documentary 'Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed') stars Kat Dennings ('2 Broke Girls') and Chad Michael Murray ('One Tree Hill'). The more interesting characters are Renee's two best friends, who pick her up from rock bottom and, with the help of a mysterious Englishman, get her to stay clean for five days so she can get to rehab.

Unfortunately, the highlight of the movie for me was recognizing local landmarks (the Beacham! that pizza place behind I-Bar! Wall Street!). There are several fantasy sequences, especially early in the film, which give it an extra degree of uneasiness, but don't necessarily fit the rest of the narrative too comfortably. I did appreciate that, at the ending, everything is not wrapped up in a neat, happy bow. The main problem is: the film is trying to tell a dark, serious story, but make it palatable to teens, so it has to soften its edges. Some of the performances were a little too glossy for the subject matter (Corbin Bleu of 'High School Musical' has a small role), and having the dude from Gym Class Heroes perform a song took me out of the atmosphere.

It's a fascinating story, a worthy organization doing tremendous work, and the film has some visual style to it, but overall RENEE gets stuck in between being a harrowing true story, and a crowd-pleasing redemption tale.