Ask the Dust
An aspiring writer in 1930s Los Angeles (Colin Farrell) becomes involved with a Mexican waitress (Salma Hayek) at the greasy spoon across the street from the fleabag hotel where he lives. Writer-director Robert Towne’s adaptation of John Fante’s semi-autobiographical 1939 novel is clearly an earnest and heartfelt labor of love, with sincere intentions and a serious literary tone. But the elements never quite come together, and the main characters never quite spring to life; Towne seems to be taking us not to Fante’s Los Angeles, but to his own 1974 heyday with Chinatown. There are brief, interesting cameos by Donald Sutherland as a seedy alcoholic neighbor of Farrell’s and Idina Menzel as a lonely Jewish housewife. Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography paints everything with a sun-bleached glow of gritty nostalgia.