Having played real-life artist Chet Baker in 2015’s Born to Be Blue, the spouse to real-life artist Maud Lewis in 2016’s Maudie, and fictional artist Tucker Crowe in his year’s Juliet, Naked, Ethan Hawke continues scratching his artisty itch by directing and co-writing a biopic of Blaze Foley that feels as raggedy-shambling, jumbled, and sad (but secretly thoughtful and impressive) as the country music oddball himself. The narrative, such as it is, is built around Foley’s “Letter to Merle,” a combination concert and manifesto played before a smattering of unsympathetic listeners in a crummy roadhouse and captured on reel-to-reel. It’s hard to call it a Last Will, given Foley’s chronic impecunity, but it’s certainly a Testament, and Hawke takes the occasion to show us How It Came to This in fine, sidelong fashion. Short version: a fat, abused southern boy (Ben Dickey, spot-on) loses 150 pounds via the antipsychotic(!) thorazine, then finds unlikely but amazingly true love with a middle-class Jewish girl (Alia Shawkat, simply magnificent), who serves as muse, motivator, and (almost) mother for her beloved Blaze. That love, and the loss of it, is the making and unmaking of both the man and the artist. But the long version is better: richer, funnier, and wiser. (2018) — Matthew Lickona
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