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‘Bloomington’ A Disappointment

I wish I could offer a more glowing review of 'Bloomington,' especially since I don't want you to think that all I do is hate on movies.

On the Set of Bloomington the Movie and movie poster


Director Fernanda Cardoso (left) and actress Allison McAtee on the set of "Bloomington."

I’ve been reluctant to post my reaction to Bloomington, Fernando Cardoso’s new film about a former child actress who moves to a Medium-Sized Midwestern College Town (our own Bloomington, IN) for a college education and, she hopes, a fresh start.

I’ve been reluctant because, just as with 8: the Mormon Proposition, the previous film I reviewed for WFIU, I really wanted to like Bloomington. It takes place in my town of residence! It’s about lesbians struggling to find love and contentment! It was filmed in Indiana! With a cast made up of several Indiana-based actors!

But Bloomington, alas, is just not a good film. The main characters are depressingly cliched: Jackie Kirk, the child actor-turned-psychology major, just wants a normal life away from the spotlight. She has mommy issues. She deals with paparazzi, even in Bloomington.

Jackie’s love interest, Catherine Stark, is the beautiful, blond psychology professor who sleeps with her students, struts around in heels and power skirts, and terrorizes her classes by asking Tough Questions about, for example, which main ideas were covered in the previous class.

And then there’s the plot, which slingshots between intensely mundane and tediously revolting. Early in the film, we are offered a glimpse into Jackie’s Brand New University Life, which consists of such interesting and exciting activities as moving into a dorm room, registering for classes, and signing up for study groups. I get that the point is to show Jackie’s deep interest in embracing a ‘normal life,’ but for the love of god do we have to see it in real time and in mind-numbing detail?

The entrance of Catherine Stark would be almost a relief from the mundanity, except that her entrance also signals the beginning of the train wreck for Bloomington. See, Jackie has mommy issues. And Catherine Stark looks and acts alarmingly similar to Jackie’s mommy. (They look so much alike, in fact, that when I watched the film at last month’s Pride Film Festival, my friends and I spent nearly the entire Thanksgiving dinner scene trying to figure out whether Jackie was spending Thanksgiving with her mother or with her girlfriend.) Which is fine–mommy issues can shape up into an interesting film.

In this case, however, the Catherine Stark / Jackie’s mom similarities are basically left unexamined: There’s a bathtub scene that has Catherine scrubbing Jackie’s back, there’s a dinner scene that has Catherine cutting Jackie’s food for her, and the rest of the film is spent trying to convince us that the relationship between Jackie and Catherine is romantic, passionate, and deep.

In order to convince us that this relationship is more than just one of convenience for both Jackie and Catherine, the film adds details that appear to have no real significance except to prove that there’s any reason whatsoever, any reason at all, that these two would be even remotely attracted to each other.

Jackie is a finalist for an academic scholarship, for which she’s required to write an essay. This makes it possible for Catherine to expound, animatedly and with great enthusiasm, on how to use Psychology to persuade people to like you! Catherine’s family died in a car crash, leaving her terrified to fly–and, by sheer coincidence, Jackie has a pilot’s license! I WONDER WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT!

Sigh. I wish I could offer a more glowing review of Bloomington, especially since I don’t want you to think that all I do is hate on movies. But–oh! while I’m at it, I have one more bone to pick with this film, which boasts widely of its Indiana ties: Bloomington was not actually filmed in Bloomington.

The film’s title, presumably, is intended to underscore the importance of place and to emphasize that it’s Jackie’s experiences in this one particular place that lead to the personal growth she purportedly exhibits. (Though–not to ruin anything for you–by the end of the film she’s really not much different or better off than she was at the beginning.) This is a film that argues for the importance of place and then proceeds to treat Indiana’s towns and college campuses as basically interchangeable.

I sometimes worry that people outside of the immediate vicinity of Bloomington really do see it as basically interchangeable with every other Midwestern college town. This, by the way, is not only a mistake but one that does a deep disservice to the unique, interesting, exciting, and sometimes troubling aspects of life in Bloomington, Indiana.

If I want to hear misguided ideas about how generic, boring, and interchangeable Bloomington is, I can call up any of my friends who live two or more states in either direction from me. I don’t need an entire film to hammer the point home.

—Jenna McWilliams

Jenna McWilliams is a guest movie reviewer for WFIU. Visit her website for more reviews.

Statements made by guest reviewers do not necessarily reflect the views of WFIU Public Media or Indiana University.

  • Sylvia_2708

    I really enjoyed Bloomington. I thought the characters were interesting, the cinematography is very elegant and the movie just breezes by – in a very light and pleasent manner.

    In the lesbian universe there are a lot of different couples, even down-right supposedly “improbable” matches (like lipstick dyke-butch ones), and these relationships may have different dynamics like Jackie and Catherine's do in this film. I, for one, found it very intriguing and complex how they sometimes do play “mother-daughter”, because that's how complex, even bizarre sometimes, human relantionships are.


  • Callie

    I’m really sorry Jenna .. I guess you’re a very good movie critic, but in this case you got too wrong! Huge mistake! Maybe you wanna (at least) read and learn A LITTE BIT about the gay universe before your next review on this kind of movie.
    Bloomington had one thing wrong, yes, and it’s the name of the film. That’s it! Clearly the intentions of the movie wasn’t talk about your “wonderful and lovely” place: Bloomington. No, honey, what they wanted to talk was about the relationship between two girls, a teacher and a student, but still simply two girls that liked each other, it doesn’t matter if it was romantic, passionate or deep. Please, wake up! For your next review about gay or lesbian movie, consider this please, and your job will have a better quality. Thank you.

  • tt

    i dont agree with this awful friend with mommy and girlfriend that a big fat lie I loved the movie jakie has more of a big sister complex then mommy thier romance was cute and mature and funny. i would have interjected certain things into ceratin scenes but it was good. personally it was heartbreaking to see them break i cried it was haertwrenching i wished that catherine had atleast her feelings out though i wish that they meet again in the future under better circumstsnces. when u watch this movie u haft to be open and see it with fresh eyes not jutarsdging ones. me 5 stars

  • Carrie

    STFU Jenna, your Just a typical self conscious superiority complex biachte! This movie was not suppose to be imposed as a Hollywood, Hobbit/HarryPotter I like when the faires eff me up the ass movie. You sound like an old hag that got kicked out of Scotland now playing the bagpipes in Ireland. This movie saved my life in a lot of ways not because I can identify with being like the characters but can relate with the loneliness these two feel from the average person and with in each other they find empowerment. I really hope they come out with a part 2!

  • Kirk D

    This review was pathetic! The movie is not supposed to be a high concept plot-driven tent pole movie. It’s an indie film!!!! Arthouse films are supposed to be understated because that’s how the nuance of relationships comes through. It’s like Jenna, the reviewer, was expecting a plot like Mission Impossible. The beauty of Bloomington is the magic chemistry between the characters… and the unsensational way they characters process their romance. Perhaps Jenna should stick to reviewing mindless bubblegum movies.

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