Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
December 2012

Jack and Diane

Sheep's clothing

'Jack and Diane' is buoyed by a strong filmmaking approach, but held back by a complete lack of material

Jack and Diane
Magnolia Pictures
Director: Bradley Rust Gray
Screenplay: Bradley Rust Gray
Starring: Juno Temple, Riley Keough, Cara Seymour, Dane DeHaan, Kylie Minogue and Michael Chernus
Rated R / 1 hour, 50 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)

I don't blame Jack and Diane for being terrible, if only because it seems like it takes the exact right approach to its material. A mishandled attempt, sure. But I have to admit I was impressed at what writer/director Bradley Rust Gray was attempting to do.

Jack and Diane is branded as "the lesbian werewolf movie," but the truth is, if you weren't aware of that from the beginning, you may not quite be sure what the movie is about. Gray handles the idea as just that - an idea, something to be hinted at and brushed up against, but never fully indulged, not unlike the sexual tension built up over the course of the film.

Instead of a lurid genre exercise, Gray presents a naturalistic portrait of a budding, awkward romance, with the story's supernatural elements coming only in dreams and interludes. The result is something more abstract, a film that invites a certain interpretation but doesn't insist upon it.

Just reading that description, I'm fully on board with the movie. And yet it somehow doesn't work. For all of Gray's impressive sense of atmosphere, I fear he simply doesn't have enough material to work with. At times the screenplay feels improvised or nonexistent - and not in a way that inspires any kind of in-the-moment creative spark. More than anything, the characters kind of glide along in a loose semblance of a narrative that, after 45 minutes or so, begins to feel like it's running in place.

The central romance is between Diane (Juno Temple), a strange, tentative type who at times seems almost aggressively uncomfortable in her own skin, and the more headstrong, street-wise Jack (Riley Keough). The two have an immediate attraction and dive into something of a tenuous, romanticized summer relationship.

What Gray attempts to do - not always successfully - is present the girls' developing feeling as visceral and elemental. He wants us to almost inhabit their bodies, to feel the tension and the violence.

The effect the relationship has on them begins to take hold in strange and frightening ways. It starts with bloody noses and moves into a full transformation (which may or may not be real, of course). In these sequences the film takes on a more surreal identity - in large part due to the use of stop-motion animation by the Brothers Quay, which Gray carefully utilizes to transition between key moments.

The implications of the most heated scenes are clear, but Gray is more concerned with the characters, and how they deal with their rapidly changing emotions, and less concerned with overtly exploring the supernatural overtones.

However, his gentle, ethereal filmmaking only gets Jack and Diane so far, and at a certain point it seems to hit a wall. We realize there's not only precious little complication between Jack and Diane - "I'm grounded!" / "I'm moving away at the end of the summer!" - but that the film ultimately doesn't have much to say about either of them, or their relationship.

And so things plod along, Gray trying hard to come up with enough material to make his 110-minute runtime worthwhile, and usually failing. There's a half-hearted attempt to introduce another woman Jack has been seeing, and an even more half-hearted attempt to give Jack some psychological depth - in the form of a mix tape she carries around that means something to her because it belonged to her now-dead brother. Either of those would be perfectly fine if they were actually developed; instead, they feel arbitrarily thrown in.

Ditto Diane's Aunt Linda (Cara Seymour), with whom Diane is staying for the summer and who doesn't care much for Jack. For the life of me I can't figure out the purpose of the character, aside from the simple fact that one character in every young romance is required to have an authority figure to rebel against. Pity Gray didn't take the time or effort to actually write one.

The end result is a film that begins promisingly but grows more and more dull by the moment, eventually settling into a sort of lifeless narrative drone from which it never escapes. Gray's aesthetic choices are commendable; unfortunately he gives himself too little to work with.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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