Jack and Diane
Right off, just in case you were wondering, the movie ‘Jack and Diane’ does not have anything remotely in common with the rock standard by American balladeer, John Melloncamp. Where his was a slice of Middle American young love the film follows a pair of teenage lesbians. The term star-cross is quite applicable here since the societal reservations against same gender romance is the least of the problems plaguing the young lovers. In most ways the story presented here is a fairly routine one if the couple was heterosexual. The parents object, one young woman is exceptionally naïve while the other has a distinctive propensity for abusive behavior. This is a story that we have all watched in a plethora of movies but writer/director Bradley Rust Gray decided to place a lesbian spin on it twist has already been down in mainstream television at least on the premium cable with several plot threads on their award winning series, ‘The L Word’. That did set a particularly high bar for the themes as used here. He is not completely new to filmmaking having some credits both as screenwriter and director to his. I’ve seen one that I found particularly interesting, The Exploding Girl’ which examines the romance of a young woman with epilepsy engaged in a new relationship. Although a limited sample it appears that Gray is interested in unusual twists in young romance. In both films the central character is searching to find themselves in the wake of public preconception and prejudice. Although the film doesn’t quite achieve all of its goals it is interesting from the vantage point that Gray defines. It can be considered in the context of a filmmaker still refining his techniques both from a directorial and literary standpoint. The main thing to keep in mind here is this is obviously an honest try that apparently is underappreciated by those that myopically focus on the flaws. This movie feels like a work in progress, an early opus in an evolving cinematic oeuvre.
Diane (Juno Temple) is a young woman on vacation from her family’s home in Australia. She is in the States visiting with her Aunt Linda (Cara Seymour) before resuming her education. Diane is a pretty girl brought up in a rather sheltered environment. This has made he exceedingly inexperienced in most aspects of life; hardly prepared for the culture shock afforded by being in a large city. She does have an adventurous streak that is potentially dangerous considering the circumstances. While wondering around Diane encounters another teenage girl, Jack (Riley Keough). The two could not be more different. Diane is a feminine, frilly, young girl fashion. Bubbly and untouched by the darker aspects of the world while Jack conceals her femininity with baggy shirts, cropped hair and swagger. When they meet there is an instant, mutual attraction. Jack takes Diane to a local bar and despite being underage for alcoholic beverages Jack has a flask to spike the legal soft drinks after a few sips Diane runs to the bathroom to vomit. She demonstrates the fact by breathing on Jack face. This is an early example of the almost childlike actions that comes naturally to her. The odor doesn’t deter her much and the two are soon engaged in a passionate kiss. After making out for a while they part making plans to meet up the next day. Diane is too timid to call getting her twin sister back home to call and impersonate her. This backfires to some extent when Jack discovers the deception. This presents the opportunity for Gray to introduce a nece4ssary element in any romance, especially one that also serves as a coming of age story. Jack’s mother and Diane’s Aunt are both against the relationship but surprisingly not for the purely homophobic reasons that you might think. The main impediment to happiness is the duration of Diane’s stay. At the end of the summer Diane is off to Paris to study fashion design.
This is a summer fling flick that is a far cry from the innocence of Sandy and Danny. When the pair is together they are consumed by unbridled passion albeit short of the immediate gratification of full consummation. Gray does display unexpected restraint in this regard. Jack does have a propensity for cruelty manifesting even in the small acts of not sharing a piece of gum to the more serious general disaffected attitude. Early on in the movie Jack is hit by a car. Although the injuries weren’t serious is did leave an abrasion on the girl’s cheek. In some ways this visually represents the emotional damage that dominants Jack’s persona.
There is a foundation of a story here that is sufficiently solid to make up the premise of an interesting human nature story. The most compelling aspect of the film is the character acts of the titular characters but unfortunately that is obfuscated by a meandering overly stylistic approach. Gary seems to still be in that portion of his career when he is trying to find his narrative voice. As such there are images that assault the viewer that are disconcerting and fail to add to the telling of the story. The dreamlike sequences of a monstrous figure may have been intended as a glimpse into Jack’s damaged psyche but it only takes the audience out of the moment; distancing us from the emotional flow of the story. I have seen this technique used effectively when portraying the turbulence of post- adolescent emotional upheaval. The difference is the rest of the story was presented in a way that while consistent with such disorientation the core character development remained straightforward. Here there is a looseness pervading the movie that prevents the parts from pulling together, all too much time is devoted to artsy, close-up shots of the two girls snogging than anything that might explore the fundamental changes occurring in both of them. Diane is coming to grips with a paradigm shift in her sexuality as she realizes her strong attraction for Jack goes beyond the sexual intensity. Love is entering into the equation on both sides and the interesting examination of this is overlooked with a superficial look at this relationship. Gray has immense potential and concrete ideas. Once he stabilizes his style he will be quite a fascinating filmmaker.
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