Jena Malone, Unsung Hero of the Indie Films of Our Youth

Donnie Darko, Saved!, The Dangerous Life of Altar Boys, Life As A House… these movies are staples of our teenage years. We fell in love with these characters who taught us to be good people, while simultaneously confusing us about our sexuality.

Jena Malone is the main female character in these movies. She’s the sidewinder, the poker, the prodder, the perilous personality who made us look at the world a different way.

The characters she plays somehow almost always trend toward a certain aphorism: “Take risks!” she says. “Be yourself! Even if you’re super weird and on the outskirts of the crowd. Even if you’re kind of skinny and spindly and sort of sexy, but not really. You can still get the guy. Just beeee yourself.”

Jena Malone. You don’t see her popping up in news scandals. She’s not running around dating people and smearing drama all over the tabloids. Her movies rarely even see the light of day. Straight to video, they go! And yet she’s still acting.

It’s almost as if she’s found her niche and plays these roles where she doesn’t quite stick out as a strong female lead. Instead, she’s just sitting there quietly in the corner, until she strikes out like a snake to ensnare your attention.

The last “big” movie she appeared in was The Neon Demon. And while I loved that movie, the more I think about it, it was Jena Malone who made it. She transformed from this bouncy, girly, skirted woman to trapped the innocent Elle Fanning into a life of decadence, with an emphasis on the root of the word: decay.

the-neon-demon-jena-malone

Before the release of that daring film, she’s been in a slew of little indie films, Lovesong being the most recent, Time Out of Mind, The Go-Getter, The Wait… and she was a leading lady in Sucker Punch, too, that movie that I can’t help but reference in most of my movie blogs, because of the pedestal it occupies on my metaphorical movie shelf.

In life, it seems, as in her films, she’s cast herself as the unobtrusive, yet sometimes obsequious side character who you can’t help but stop and think, ‘”Jees, she’s good. Who is she again? She looks familiar… Well, whatever. This is a weird ass movie, and what’s with all the triangle symbology…”

So, why is she a hero? She’s always sacrificing herself to serve the greater good. She’s a martyr in my eyes… with the exception of her role in The Neon Demon, of course.

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In Sucker Punch, she stays behind to fight off the Nazi zombies, while her friends fly to safety. In the most recent film I’ve seen with her, Time Out of Mind, it’s intimated she’s decided to take her homeless dad in, even though she has a great life going as a bartender popular among the male population in the city. But in this film, which may even encapsulate the capitulating nature of her most lauded roles, she gets about 7 minutes of screen time, the entire film, but they’re precious moments that turn the tide of the story.

In Lovesong, she plays havoc with the emotions of an uninteresting housewife who begins to question her sexuality after Malone comes to stay with her a week, seemingly out of boredom. I mean, come on, you can’t go back and revisit your college days and expect everything to be hunky dory.

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She won’t stop. She’ll keep pumping out these little diddies until she gets tired of them, I suppose. Malone’s not super famous, but she makes enough to get by. And in an interview about Time Out of Mind, she says she has a lot of time on her hands. She’s been getting into photography and writing a lot. So, that’s promising.

“I’ve been writing a lot, I think I’m going to be starting my own publishing company and maybe release some books and photos and some poetry, ya know how that goes.”

The Public, a movie about an arctic blast that threatens to take out a beloved library where Malone plays a librarian is currently in post-production. Let’s see what the future holds for Jena Malone!

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