Ballad of Jack and Rose, TheReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 04/01/05 14:14:34
On paper, I can see how “The Ballad of Jack and Rose” could seem like an intriguing film for certain audiences. It has been directed by Rebecca Miller, who has stubbornly chosen to carve out a filmmaking career dedicated to expressing the stories that she wants to tell instead of creating something flashy enough to get her a three-picture deal at Disney. It stars Daniel Day-Lewis, one of the best actors working today, in one of his increasingly rare film roles (his first since “Gangs of New York”). It even features a bunch of reliable actors in the supporting roles, including Jason Lee, Jena Malone and the invaluable Catherine Keener. However, what looks good in theory on paper turns out to be slightly dreadful in practice on the screen–a draggy melodrama that squanders two strong lead performances on a story that is so choked with ham-fisted symbols and metaphors that they inspire bad laughs at the worst possible times.Set in 1986, the film takes place on the remains of a former commune where the only people left are Jack (Daniel Day-Lewis), one of those original hippies who founded the place as “an experiment”, and his 16-year-old daughter Rose (Camilla Belle). Having spent most of their lives there in isolation, the inevitable progress of time begins to beat down on them; a greedy developer straight from a John Sayles film (Beau Bridges) has begun filling up the surrounding land with ugly housing developments and Jack, it seems, is dying. To combat the former, he deploys such tools as shotguns and a bulldozer. For the latter, he decides to open up his home to his occasional girlfriend (Catherine Keener) and her two sons, one a disobedient punk and the other a chunky would-be hairdresser whose weight problems are a source of irritation to his mother. For Rose, who’s life is so intertwined with her beloved father’s that she has vowed to kill herself when he dies, this invasion is intolerable and she does everything in her power to restore things to the way they were (first using her budding sexuality and later the more direct methods of shotguns and copperhead snakes), leading to heartbreak and tragedy for all.
There is an intriguing story idea here–the idea of parents who idealistically talk about being allowed to live their own lives, yet quietly forcing their kids to live those lives as well even when they are clearly detrimental–but it is fatally hampered by the fact that writer-director Rebecca Miller once again demonstrates, as she previously did with “Angela” and “Personal Velocity,” that she simply isn’t much of a filmmaker. Her screenplay is arch, rarely believable (there is no way that the Day-Lewis character, as presented, would have ever given the time of day to Keener’s, let alone brought her home to live with him and Rose) and laden with the kind of symbolism that is so heavy-handed that it almost feels like a joke (such as the moment where Rose’s defloration is intercut with the escape of a deadly copperhead into the house) while the direction is slack, tension-free, especially in the draggy final reels, and she tries to cover up the emotional deficiencies of the story by ladling the soundtrack with songs meant to inspire the feelings that she was unable to convey on her own. (“Masked and Anonymous” didn’t have this many Bob Dylan songs on the soundtrack.)On the other hand, Day-Lewis and Belle are both quite spectacular in their roles–one of the few times where the teaming of a supremely talented vet and a relative newcomer feels like a battle of equals instead of a mismatch–especially in the early scenes before the other characters come upon the scene. “The Ballad of Jack and Rose” had just concentrated on them and left out the girlfriend, the sons and the developers, it might have really been something worth seeing. Instead, it just meanders around aimlessly without much of a drive or point until the audience is simply too bored to care what happens to them one way or another.
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