Clean is a tale of one woman's story of recovery, reclamation, and reformation, despite the fact that the challenges that face her (and just about everyone who knows her) are against her. Clean stars Maggie Cheung: Hero, as Emily Wang, a woman who is trying to clean up her life and her act to reclaim the child and adult responsibility she abdicated while pursing the party-girl life during the 'sex, drugs, rock & roll ' excess era of the 80's. Her party partner and boyfriend Lee (James Johnston), who while once was well known and popular, now finds himself a fading musician in the fringe rock scene. His fame and fanbase has gone the way of the jheri-curl and legwarmers of the same epoch, making him a de facto has been. With no record deal and chances of a comeback evaporating, Lee and Emily are reduced to staying in 1/2 star motels while playing in small club gigs in and around Canada (-- really scraping the bottom of the barrel). The aging Lee is depressed and frustrated as the quality and popularity of his work going down faster than a $20 crack whore -- and his friends, pundits, and industry insiders all blame and abhor the Courtney Love/Yoko Ono-ish Emily for getting him and keeping him hooked on heroin and taking his creativity on a downward spiral. Emily, herself a heroin fiend and former MTV-esque VJ on French TV occupies herself with partying, fighting with Lee, and trying to restore her own career and reputation in the industry.

One night after a fight with Lee, Emily drives off to spend the night shooting up in an industrial part of Toronto. She returns the next morning to find Lee dead of an overdose and is arrested for possession and is sentenced to 6 months in prison. During her unfortunate incarceration, she is visited by her quasi-father-in-law Albrecht (Nick Nolte) -- she and Lee never married. Albrecht is handling Lee's estate along with his wife and Lee's mother, Rosemary (Martha Henry). The two also have care and custody of Emily and Lee's son, Jay (James Dennis). Rosemary, like everyone else, blames Emily for Lee's decline, dependency, and death, -- even going so far as to tell Jay that his mother killed his father. Albrecht, who is the only person who doesn't judge, hate, or blame Emily, asks her not to see Jay or seek custody because Jay needs the stability that she can obviously not provide. Without friends, money, Lee, heroin or any idea of what she'll do, Emily goes to Paris where she works as a waitress and tries desperately to connect with her few remaining industry connections. Hoping that one of them will help her make one final attempt to realize the dreams that she and Lee had.

Somewhere along the line though, the movie turns from focusing on Emily's efforts to get back her son to her intercontinental mission to get some of Lee's posthumous works distributed and some of her own recorded. The child custody theme seems to take a back seat to her own motivations, which are not all maternal. I was lost as to the clear direction of this story and the turn of the plot also caused a turn of your perception of Emily. Despite the story, the cast was fairly good -- Maggie Cheung did a good turn as Emily, and Nick Nolte was pleasant as the tranquil surrogate father for her son. Her kid is cute, but not much else. There is a cameo by trip-hop pioneer Tricky (The Fifth Element) with whom Emily needs to meet up with in order to set things in motion for her projects, and also an appearance by David Roback (Mazzy Star). Clean was written and directed by Oliver Assayas who had written the part specifically for Cheung (btw, the couple signed the divorce papers during the filming.)

I didn't know what to expect when I saw Clean, as it was billed as a movie about a woman who wants to get her son back after recovering from drug addiction, but I'm not sure where exactly I would place this film if I had to pick a genre. However, I think it is worth a look, at least.

Grade C+

Czarina's Caustic Comment or Captious Compliment: Clean gets spotty in a few places.


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