Jon’s VOD Pick of the Week: To Write Love On Her Arms

Sometimes going out to the theater is hard work. If you’re anything like me, the fact that you have to put on pants is already a huge disappointment. You’ve reached the end of your queue and have already seen everything worth seeing on Netflix, so what can you do? That’s right, I have a solution that you don’t need pants for! Rent something on Video On Demand (VOD). There’s a recent trend where films are being released online before they even hit theaters, and it’s usually cheaper than the price of admission. Every week when movies come out on VOD, I’ll narrow down the best one for that week. This week’s pick is: To Write Love On Her Arms

TWLOHA

Music has always had therapeutic properties. Sometimes it is in a subtle way, but other times it can be an immeasurable, profound experience full of catharsis and deep, personal reflection. The latter can best be described as a sort of synergy, where the music complements and enhances your life for the better. To Write Love On Her Arms perfectly captures the symbiosis we can sometimes experience when we listen to a certain song that mirrors our emotions, and the beautiful roller coaster of feelings it can lead us into.

The story follows the life of Renee Yohe (Kat Dennings) and her decline into substance abuse, self-abuse and depression. Even as a child, she saw the world differently, believing in fairies and fairy tales, creating a vibrant world of reality and fiction where anything was possible. With such euphoric highs come abhorrent lows, especially when bipolarism comes into play. The only real constant in Renee’s life is music, which she uses as a coping mechanism. After a party she went to with her friends Jessie and Dylan, Renee is never the same again. A few years later, after hitting rock bottom, she returns home looking for help from her once best friends, who reluctantly agree to help her more out of pity than a sense of friendship.

Dylan’s boss, David (Rupert Friend), who was no stranger to substance abuse, decides to help Renee, until she is detoxed enough to enter rehab. Apparently, there is such a thing as being too high risk for rehab, and in Renee’s case, that means having a very recent substance abuse problem coupled with pre-existing bipolarism and recent self-harm marks. While detoxing, Renee meets Jamie (Chad Michael Murray), who witnesses Renee’s battle firsthand and is deeply affected by it. While Renee is in rehab, Jamie tells her story as a way to gather (financial) support to help pay for her expenses. To Jamie’s surprise, the story resonated with thousands of people around the world, giving birth to the movement and organization now known as To Write Love On Her Arms.

(See Also: Interview with Jamie Tworkowski, Founder of To Write Love On Her Arms)

Like the organization, by the same name, that this film depicts the creation of, music is used as an effective tool to convey its message. I’m not just talking about the scoring, although that is also superb in its own respects. Renee’s downward spiral is extenuated by music, sometimes performed live by the artists in the scenes (like Travie McCoy or Rachael Yamagata), and made more exuberant by the intoxicating visual style. The music video style lends itself well to this story, which not many films can boast. It’s very artful, whimsical and sometimes surreal, clearing up any ambiguities on the mood of every situation. 

The standout musical performances aren’t the only bright accents in this somber story. Kat Dennings steps out of the shadows of her usual comedic foil archetype and delivers a spotlight worthy performance full of depth and range. The subtly she displays in her performance carries an air of respect and understanding of the real descent into depression and addiction. There are no exaggerated antics or frenzy typical to these type of recovery films, but there is understated complexity to the character lets them keep their dignity rather than abasing them. If Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist was considered her breakout performance, than this film should be regarded as her current magnum opus.

To Write Love On Her Arms is a symphonious specimen of the melding of dazzling visuals, masterful musical scoring, and remarkable performances (especially by Kat Dennings). This film was one of the casualties of the Sony leak last year, and even though more than a handful of you may have already seen it (via illegally downloaded), it is well worth buying or at least renting. A portion of the sales go towards the organization.

RATING: ★★★★★★★★(8/10 stars)

Rent or buy it on Amazon or iTunes

Jon would say that as a writer, he is a self-proclaimed film snob and a pop culture junkie. Always gives his honest, critical, and maybe a little bit snarky opinion on everything. He's very detail oriented and loves anything involving creativity and innovation. You're better off asking him who his favorite director is rather than his favorite film. So beware and get ready to be entertained. You can contact him at jon@theyoungfolks.com or follow him on twitter @DystopianHero. (Also, he doesn't always refer to himself in the third person, but sometimes he just has to).