Kat Dennings plays young, free-spirited Renee, who had been besieged by bi-polar since she was a child. Renee’s life only continues to create downward spiral after downward spiral, beginning with her rape by a classmate and her disassociation from those closest to her, resorting instead to a cocktail of drugs, alcohol and self-injury.
The one thing Renee has to lift her spirits is music; the act of listening to which transports her to another time and place, separate from her very real troubles. This filmic representation of Renee’s life is at its best when it’s showing the inner processes of her mind; as she walks down a hallway listening to Gym Class Heroes, Travie McCoy appears in front of her, singing directly to her, as her classmates enter into an organised dance routine. As one of her friends, Dylan, sings Coldplay’s ‘The Scientist’ at an open mic night, she zones in on the song in a euphoric state, imagining him joined by a serene choir of voices, the performance for her and her alone.
This is the strength of the film and it’s representation of Renee’s coping mechanism is extremely relevant to the overall story of Renee Yohe (a musician herself, in real life) and the movement that started because of her tale. As the aforementioned blog post echoed around the internet, and similar sufferers of such afflictions voiced their own stories, supporting one another, several famous bands got in on the act and began wearing TWLOHA t-shirts to their gigs, promoting awareness of the cause. The movement exists because of the music, and because of Renee’s dependence and attachment to it as a healer and tonic. It is in this that director Nathan Frankowski succeeds, tying together the abstract ideas of music and its therapeutic abilities to the painful story of Renee Yohe, and doing it justice with the way he presents that idea.
To discuss this adaptation of Yohe’s life and the origins of the TWLOHA movement is to separate the impact of the creation of this film from the real-world significance of the movement. The subject matter is loaded, as we are dealing with the very real pain of someone who has been through three times what the average person should have to suffer in their life – resulting in a highly commendable social outreach movement that cannot be faulted for its methods or results. It’s important to focus on To Write Love on Her Arms as a film, whilst respecting everything it represents. Which we do.
Luckily, there is little judgment to be found of the film.
If you didn’t know it already, Kat Dennings is a highly capable actress, perhaps unfairly lost amidst the constant influx of young, quirky, attractive leading women in today’s crowded celluloid marketplace. She brings Renee to life with a vulnerability and soulfulness that few other actresses could pull off with conviction. The film glides along on her shoulders; shoulders burdened with the same responsibility for the TWLOHA movement that the real-life Renee no doubt felt.
Rupert Friend is the MVP, as recovering addict David McKenna, who becomes involved with Renee’s recovery from drug addiction via his employee and her best friend, Dylan (a charming Mark Saul). He is a heroic, platonic figure that comes into Renee’s life when she needs him most – not that she would admit to it, and not that he feels he’s up to the task, forever battling his own demons. Friend completely sells it, even more so at the eleventh hour when on the verge of relapse and the student must aid the master.
Chad Michael Murray is perhaps one of the only letdowns, if only perhaps because of his own ingrained persona at this juncture in his career. Playing a pretty, creative type isn’t much of a stretch, nor is playing an unrequited love interest of a damaged girl – you feel like you’ve seen it before, right down to his douchebag beanie. But with the lines being so blurred between character and actor, he is to be forgiven – especially as to the vital role his character plays in the story, as the aspiring writer who asks Renee if he can get her story down on paper, and the figure on which Renee hinges her recovery along with McKenna
There is much to be enjoyed from the performances here, including Corbin Bleu’s sideshow attraction of Renee’s enabler, taking her to the drug dens where she inevitably scores (and much worse happens besides). You really, really despise him when he turns up later wearing a TWLOHA t-shirt, not owning up to his own culpability in Renee’s story – but redemption exists round the corner for him also.
Ultimately, pseudo-fantastical musical interludes aside, the film is played honest and stark, and it works to its credit. An absorbing, harrowing tale of one woman’s battle against every demon a person can have, it results in a life-affirming message for those who feel no choice but to feel alone. It’s for them that the film is so saccharine; it needs to be.
Deleted Scenes, as ever putting forward why they were deleted, no explanation necessary; the film is more concise without. A couple of deleted scenes with bad guy Echo (J. LaRose) being sort-of redeemed are wisely dismissed. A few featurettes dealing with Renee Yohe’s story round out the background of the movement and it’s transition to screen – required viewing for those enamoured with the story. A good segment titled Music in the Movie: Amplifying the Story speaks to those engrossed in the musical portions of the film, as this reviewer was. Character Profiles are ultimately unnecessary but add to the overall package, whilst the On-Set Video Blogs feel a tad too self-congratulatory – but perhaps self-congratulations are in order for this bunch.
To Write Love on Her Arms is available on DVD and Digital HD now.