Love the song, hated the film. Okay, hate is a strong word and by the way the film has nothing to do with the popular lyrics (by John Mellancamp)! That said, I liked the film’s premise, the acting was good, there were even some really beautiful moments, but the overall execution was a huge miss.
At one point during the film, I turned to my friend, a film producer and said, “if this could make Tribeca, you have nothing to worry about.” Harsh? Maybe. But you came here for an honest review, yes?
Jack and Diane stars Riley Keough as Tomboy Jack and Juno Temple as the curious Diane. It was slated as a love story with horror elements which could have been the problem right there. The credits set the tone from the start and featured a hair-like braid weaving the title across the screen. I only mention this because we see this same braid coiling around what appears to be inner organs and body parts throughout the film in random cutaways. They seemed to be connected to a mysterious nosebleed that plagues Diane throughout the movie.
We open the film with this bloody nose and pull out to see the lovely Diane, who appears to be blacking out or being attacked from within in a bathroom. Then the film goes black and takes us to ‘Some Time Earlier’. After an odd scene where Diane is wandering through Manhattan looking for her twin sister (who was apparently supposed to be arriving on a bus bud didn’t show), we get to the real inciting moment. Diane, dressed a bit like a Raggedy Ann Doll with wavy unkempt hair just short of dread locks, is carrying no money or phone and attempts to borrow a cell from the nearest passerby. She walks into a local store to ask the man at the front desk to borrow his and we meet Jack, who has been working (a.k.a. drinking beer) in the back. A few drops of blood later and Jack is in the back holding a tissue to Diane’s nose and offering her a drink. This is where our offbeat love story begins.
After calling her aunt (who Diane is in town visiting) she decides to forego heading home and hit a nightclub with the persuasive Jack who has clearly been a regular at underage drinking. After another nosebleed that leaves Diane passed out on the club’s bathroom floor, puddle of blood beside her, she rejoins Jack and the two share in an intense makeout scene. I need to interrupt my review here to say that the acting in the film was excellent. Despite, very little dialogue or much reasoning, we get the sense that these two characters share an instant bond, attraction, and love for each other. Despite the oddity of the story line, you do care about them. That said, the film drags out for at least another 45 minutes where not much else is revealed other than Diane is grounded when she finally does return home and that she will be returning to Europe in a week to attend school in France.
We get the sense there is a deeper story here about a girl who is misunderstood by her family and who is trying to find her own identity without her twin by her side. As for Jack, we get a glimpse that she is morning the death of her brother and is damaged and fragile despite her tough exterior. She even gets hit by a cab while skateboarding and daydreaming of Diane and just shrugs it off. Not convinced? She thinks it’s cool when her tooth falls out post-accident and mid-makeout with Diane. Gross!
At it’s heart, this film attempts to be a story about first-love and what happens when that love is tested. It examines, the joys, fears, and awkwardness of young love. Do we ever find out how the nosebleeds and horror elements play in? I really couldn’t tell you. After two nearly back-to-back masturbation scenes and a slew of slow moments sans dialogue, I honestly dosed off. Perhaps, it was the back to back days of running around Manhattan that finally got to me, but I am pretty sure it was a boredom that overcame the handful of people actually in my theater.
I wanted to like this film. I felt it’s emotion at times, but I didn’t feel the story was grounded in anything. I also couldn’t help but wonder why the filmmakers cast a lesbian love story with one of the ladies as a tomboy. Was it because Diane was more likely to find her first love with a girl that looked so much like a boy (I wasn’t sure myself for a few scenes) or was it a decision to make the content easier for the less liberal viewer to digest? I also couldn’t help but feel these teens were so young it felt almost uncomfortable to watch their first sexual experiences being played out on screen so vividly.
Either way, the film failed to overcome it’s mundane narrative and overly stylized (and bizarre) attempt to mix genres.