Jolene (film)

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Promotional poster
Directed by Dan Ireland
Produced by Zachary Matz
Riva Yares
Written by E. L. Doctorow
Dennis Yares
Starring Jessica Chastain
Dermot Mulroney
Chazz Palminteri
Rupert Friend
Denise Richards
Michael Vartan
Frances Fisher
Theresa Russell
Music by Harry Gregson-Williams
Cinematography Claudio Rocha
Edited by Luis Colina
Distributed by E1 Entertainment
Release date
  • June 13, 2008 (2008-06-13) (Seattle International Film Festival)
  • October 29, 2010 (2010-10-29) (United States)
Country United States
Language English

Jolene is a 2008 American drama film directed by Dan Ireland, based on the short story "Jolene: A Life" by E. L. Doctorow and inspired by Dolly Parton's song of the "same name".[1] Jessica Chastain played the title character in her film debut. It premiered on 13 June 2008 at the Seattle International Film Festival and was later released in the United States on 29 October 2010.


Jolene is a 15-year-old foster child recently orphaned. She marries Mickey, a nerdy 20-year-old, to break free of the foster care. The couple live with Mickey's Uncle Phil and Aunt Kay. When Jolene asks Mickey about his mother, he rebuffs her and starts crying. To make him feel better, she seduces him, but Mickey's inexperience leads to uncomfortable and joyless sex. The next day, Mickey and Uncle Phil wish Jolene a "Happy Birthday" with Aunt Kay asking Jolene to clean the floor. Uncle Phil walks in as Jolene is cleaning the floors, is aroused and they have sex. Starting an affair, they have passionate sex, with Phil promising to build a house for the two of them, but asks Jolene to keep the affair secret. Eventually, Aunt Kay walks in on them having sex and violently sends Jolene out of the house. Mickey, Phil and Kay fight, then Mickey walks out and commits suicide by jumping off a bridge.

Aunt Kay has Jolene placed in a juvenile mental institution, meeting Cindy, a psychiatric nurse. Jolene asks for paper and colored pencils to draw. Her request is denied, but she is allowed crayons. Uncle Phil is sentenced to eighteen months in prison. Cindy, a lesbian, takes a liking to Jolene and this culminates in another affair. Cindy breaks Jolene out of the mental hospital and hides her, but Jolene soon breaks free and boards a bus west out of South Carolina. Jolene resorts to hitchhiking further west, supporting herself by prostitution.

Jolene ends up in a Southwestern state, and works as a waitress at an outdoor diner. There she meets Coco Lege, an aspiring musician and tattoo artist. A relationship between them blooms and Jolene becomes a tattoo artist at the tattoo parlor where Coco works. After passing out and having sex, Coco is revealed to have cocaine addiction, and supports his habit and the parlor by dealing cocaine. One evening, a young woman enters the parlor and declares herself to be his wife, Marin. She introduces his son, Coco Jr. Coco returns and is confronted by both women before he walks out with Marin and the baby. Jolene destroys the parlor, dumps the cocaine on a table, steals the money and dumps her ring in the center of the cocaine, before dialing 911 and fleeing the scene.

Jolene ends up in Las Vegas, working as an erotic dancer when she meets Sal Fontaine, a mobster. She moves into his high rise condo and quits dancing. One day, Sal demands that Jolene gets dressed, go downstairs and wait for him. She falls asleep in the restaurant and quietly returns to find Sal dead and the mob still in the condo looking for something. Jolene escapes and ends up hitchhiking on a truck to Tulsa.

In Tulsa, Jolene finds work as a receptionist and as a banquet server. She meets Brad Bento, the son of a wealthy family. Jolene eventually dates and marries Brad. When Jolene becomes pregnant, he realizes she is less than pristine and punches her in the face. After the baby is born, his parents investigate Jolene's past and inform Brad. He then punches her and dumps paint on her. She tries to leave and take Brad Jr. While staying in a shelter for battered women, the police come and arrest Jolene for kidnapping and Brad is granted an annulment. Jolene is convicted of the kidnapping and is allowed supervised visits. Jolene exits her baby's life while he is an infant, reasoning that he can imagine his mother to be anybody.

Finally, Jolene ends up in Los Angeles, working as a comic illustrator for a graphic novel company. She reveals that a film studio wants to use her as an actress. Seeing a woman walking her four-year-old up the street, Jolene quickly imagines herself a famous actress returning to Tulsa in a limousine to visit her son and happily walks out of frame.



The film received a mixed critical reaction. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 50% based on reviews from 20 critics.[2]

Jeanette Catsoulis of The New York Times praised Chastain's performance, noting that she "digs deep. Surrendering to her character’s smoky voice-over and disastrous judgment, the actress finds pockets of soul in a role that’s part Jessica Rabbit, part Marilyn Monroe."[3] Rex Reed of The New York Observer rated the film 3 out of 4 stars. Reed praised the casting; "This movie boasts a terrific cast, and Ms. Chastain not only holds her own corner of every scene, she's the only thing you want to watch."[4]


  1. ^ White, Armond (October 27, 2010). "Dolly Did It First". New York Press. 
  2. ^ "Jolene (2008)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 
  3. ^ Catsoulis, Jeanette (October 28, 2010). "Searching for Stability". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2010-11-01. 
  4. ^ Reed, Rex (27 October 2010). "Jolene Was Worth the Wait: A Two-Year-Old Film Finally Gets the Spotlight". New York Observer. 

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