Smile Again Jenny Lee (2016) – By Philip Smolen


Jenny Lee (Monique Hafen) is a tennis pro who’s down on her luck. Once a rising star, Jenny was assaulted by an unknown thug, who ended her career. Unwilling to give up on tennis, the bratty Jenny Lee then finds out that her manager ran off with her winnings, leaving her penniless. To make matters worse, her rich mother refuses to support her tennis comeback. Lost and bewildered, Jenny Lee decides to try and find her father to see if he will help her. The only problem is that she hasn’t seen him since she was three. But then a mysterious stranger (Carlo Caldana) appears and he offers to help Jenny with her quest. So with one eye on the road ahead and the other eye on her odd traveling companion, Jenny Lee begins her search, unsure of what she will find.

“Smile Again Jenny Lee” is a feature length indie project from writer/director Carlo Caldana. The film is based on his novel and is a sturdy and satisfying adult drama. One of film’s great accomplishments is that it takes a completely unlikable main character like Jenny Lee and generates sympathy for her. Jenny’s journey to find her father is a voyage of self discovery. Much like Odysseus’s journeys in Homer’s “The Odyssey”, Jenny’s trip is supposed to be simple and direct, but instead it continually zig zags and forces her to come to terms with the people in her life. She discovers things she never knew about herself and these discoveries challenge what she has always believed in.

The film features some remarkable performances. Monique Hafen is simply brilliant as Jenny Lee. Her initial bitchiness and self loathing is so convincing that you find yourself rooting against her. But as she discovers things about herself, her father and her life, Hafen begins to project a wonderful child-like innocence that is captivating and beguiling. Her performance dominates the film and she gives Jenny Lee the credibility that she must have for audience support. Carlo Caldana is also quite good as the mysterious Charles, a man who doesn’t really know what happened in his past. His performance is appropriately odd and off center. Stellar supporting work is turned in by Linda DeMetrick, Beverly Griffith and Safiya Fredericks.

“Smile Again Jenny Lee” is a solid indie drama that features a fierce lead performance by Monique Hafen. Although it drags a little towards the end, this is still a well made and captivating movie that should charm movie audiences. It’s an enjoyable tale about one’s woman’s voyage of self discovery.


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