Jack And Jill Vs. The World
At a time when it seems that the majority of independent film makers are turning out an endless stream of cheap horror flicks it is reassuring to see some still believe that other genres can be made. Coming in second places appears to be the romantic comedy. That is the good news, the corresponding bad news is romantic comedies tend to follow a strict set of prefabricated rules much like their brethren in the horror world. This is the case with one of the latest Indy rom-coms to hit the DVD shelves, ‘Jack and Jill versus the World’. It is entertaining but there is absolutely nothing that can remotely be considered a surprise or plot twist. What saves the film is the direction and performances of the leading man and woman. This is one of those bittersweet movies that usually wind up on the Lifetime cable network some Sunday afternoon. This should not be considered a derogatory comment, it really isn’t. There is a place in cinema for a film like this. It is entertaining and will pull the audience in; just do not expect to be surprised at any point. The best way to view this flick is sit back and just enjoy it; nothing too heavy, no hidden messages to decipher just a fun little flick.
The film was written by Peter Stebbings and director Vanessa Parise. Stebbings has spent most of his career as an actor; mostly in television series such as ‘Jeremiah’ and ‘Stargate SG-1’ with a smattering of feature films thrown in for good measure. This is his first screenplay though. Parise has both written directed a couple of other romantic comedies, ‘Kiss the Bride’, a film and the short ‘Lo and Jo’. ‘Kiss the Bride’ did garner several film festival awards so Ms Parise knows her way around both her crafts. The basic plot is one that will be familiar to fans of the genre. An uptight control freak of a man meets up with a free spirited young woman and they rapidly fall in love. Just when things look like they are going well and the guy begins to loosen up he discovers that she has a terminal disease; queue the Lifetime logo. A very slight variation of this was done in 1968 with ‘Sweet November’ featuring Sandy Dennis and Anthony Newley. There was also a remake of the same name in 2001 using Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron taking the leads. In this incarnation Parise also takes on the required part of the wacky friend. Not to be left out Stebbings gets to step out in front of the camera as the male lead’s bet friend. The one list twist here is the couple comes up with a ‘manifesto’ of nine rules too live by. This replaces the new man every month concept in the ‘Sweet November’ variations. The story is derailed several times with the inclusion of a plot line concerning the rough relationship between the man and his father. It seems to be an attempt to add some background and depth to the main male character but it only takes the focus off the actual story.
Ms Parise fairs better in her role as director. She has a natural sense of what is needed to make a story so familiar to the audience work. She is visually very interesting keeping the viewers entertained with the way she presents the movie. There are split screens to show more than one viewpoint. This can rapidly become tiresome but Parise avoids the pitfall of overusing the technique. She also includes a few music montages. Again we have all seen this time and time again but somehow the fashion in which she presents it there is a fresh feel to it. Compounding the aforementioned problem with the father’s sub plot is letting that character take on the function of narrator. The concentration is too much on their relationship than the way this young woman is helping his son. You can go into this film expecting to see the same old thing and in all truth; you will. The direction by Parise is so easy going and on the spot that you can almost forget the overused story lines and find yourself liking the movie. This is a case where overly analyzing a film can ruin your appreciation for it. Parise also managers to get a lot out of here cast. This in itself goes a long way to help the film work. She also doesn’t belabor the point the story is making. The pacing is fast enough to keep the film moving in the right direction. Aside from the familiar problems between father and son nothing drags here.
Jack (Freddie Prinze Jr.) is an advertising executive living and working in New York City. He likes the fast pace lifestyle he has; it suites him well. He is the kind of guy that likes to be in control, have his day completely planned out and not encounter any surprises. In that aspect Jack would most likely enjoy this movie. He prides himself on being a success in his field and his stylist taste in clothing. Secretly he is bored out of his mind but that is the price that he has to pay for the life style he chose. One day Jack is on the roof to grab a quick smoke and dump some flyers stating ‘Stupid’ over the edge of the building. While up on the roof a young woman Jill (Taryn Manning) steps out trying to get reception on her cell phone. She is trying to get a room to rent and when the call is dropped she kicks the phone off the roof in frustration. The two begin to chat and it is rapidly apparent that she is ditzy; she is trying to get around the streets of New York with a subway map. Of course the two start hanging out and before the week is out they are sharing Jack’s place. They are a couple, sort of; more like friends with benefits. They playfully come up with their manifesto for living; nine rules to make life happy and fulfilling. The inevitable dark cloud arrives when Jack discovers that Jill has broken the first rule, honesty. She has Cystic Fibrosis and is terminally ill. Jill just wants to make the most out of what little time she has.
For once Prinze gives a performance that truly lets you know a little bit about his character. He is beginning to get a steady foundation for his presentation and that translates to a fun time watching him. Manning seems to be in a new independent flick ever few weeks. In the last couple of months I have reviewed her in action, crime and a comedy/drama. This is the way for an actress of her age to go. She is working hard in Indy flicks taking on a variety of roles and honing her talents. Here she is solid in her performance and helps to sell her character.
The DVD of this film comes from First Look Studios. They are gaining a great reputation in bringing the art house into your living room. This is a great example of a flick you most likely missed but is well worth the watch.