‘Clean’ (2004)

Clean (2004) What happened to Linda Emery after the death of Bruce Lee? To Courtney Love after the death of Kurt Cobain? To Yoko, after John Lennon was shot by Mark David Chapman?

Olivier Assayas’ ‘Clean’ is a sobering look at one of these morning-afters . Maggie Cheung stars as Emily Wang, a Yoko-like ex-MTV celebrity trying to assist her husband/veteran rock-star stage his comeback on the eve of his accidental drug-overdose. Since she was also a drug-user, it is inevitable that the rock star’s parents blame her for his death; Emily’s son, Jay remains in his grandparents’ care, so it is also inevitable that the boy’s terminally ill grandmother is also reluctant to grant Emily any visitation rights.

Like the 2 other films I got from the Spout Mavens group the week before, this seemed as though it was going to be a boner – some child trapped in circumstances created by his/her parents, trapping the child in some untenable circumstance and scarring him or for the rest of their natural lives; thankfully, all three films departed the Speilberg matrix™ to concentrate upon the travails of the adults.

In ‘Clean’, the story centers on Emily Wang trying to pick up the pieces of her life and make compromises that she never had to before – taking a sales job, selling off her property, making an effort to regain her son’s trust, since her son, Jay has had his ear poisoned by the vengeful grandmother.

For all of the ‘Kurt and Courtney’, ‘Sid and Nancy’ shenanigans we’ve seen hit the screens over the last 20 years, ‘Clean’ is a generally better film, because it is a film about survival and recovery, rather than a movie about a survivor jonesing for a dead partner and enabler.

Unlike the biopics that this movie resembles, Emily’s ‘luggage’ is quickly – perhaps too hastily – dispensed with. There is no 3rd act of regret, denial and memorabilia in the fireplace. Emily’s only twinge of regret is the stop-gap department-store job that she must take before her old friends take up her cause and offer her a few new opportunities.

The lesson learned is that it might be possible for a celebrity to shake off the spotlight and live free of fame’s amphetamines. That’s not a bracing lesson for most of us, but it’s a welcome alternative to many of the fall-from-grace stories that we’ve been sold over the years.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Clean (2004)
Director: Olivier Assayas
Cast: Maggie Cheung, Nick Nolte, Béatrice Dalle, Jeanne Balibar, Don McKellar

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