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Monday, June 20, 2011

The Ballad of Jack and Rose

Rating: ★★

Another argument for the dangers of home schooling.

The Ballad of Jack and Rose furthers my argument that if The Parent Trap had only been about one child, it would have been a psychological drama. Haley Mills of course never had the near clinical sense of vacancy that Camilla Belle has as an actress. That isn't a knock on Belle, merely an observation - this character seems perfectly tailored to her abilities as a young actress. She's wonderful here, in ways that she isn't in other things. Of course, comparing this film to, oh... 10,000 BC is a bit like comparing this film to The Parent Trap. This is a film that deals with deep emotional issues, and some oddly specific parts of human nature - yet, it never manages to go as deep as it might suggest. And the film's director, Rebecca Miller (daughter of The Crucible's playwright Arthur Miller, and also Daniel Day-Lewis' wife), might not have been ready to delve into the story she presented. 

More after the cut--

This, as we've been told, is the ballad of Jack (Daniel Day-Lewis) and Rose. And we know it's a ballad not only because the title tells us so, but because of the soundtrack is populated with Bob Dylan's more somber work. And two versions of "I Put a Spell on You", for some reason I'll never fully understand. The film opens with Jack and Rose lying on the roof of their cottage, staring at the clouds and picking out shapes. He merely has his arm around his daughter. She has her arms around the man she loves. Or thinks she loves. She's at the age where if she were asked to describe love, of course it would be about her father. Her mother isn't around, and there are no boys on the almost isolated island where she and Jack live. He's in his middle aged, Jack, and very sick. They live in a commune off of the East coast, where a housing developer, Marty Rance (Beau Bridges) is trying to buy the land. Jack gets his kicks going down to their model houses and firing his shotgun into the air, scaring off construction workers. He claims its a wet land, and it must be protected. For this, and many other reasons, Rose loves her father. A little too much. 

Jack has a girlfriend that he's kept from Rose, unwisely as it may seem now. She's Kathleen (Catherine Keener) and a mother of two; Rodney (Ryan McDonald) and Thaddius (Paul Dano). Jack and Kathleen have been seeing each other for about six months, and in an attempt to get Rose used to other people, he invites Kathleen and her boys to live with him on the island. Of course, there's no TV - so, the boys aren't too thrilled. Thaddius less so than Rodney; Thaddius is a contemptible druggie, and Rodney is a sweet and effeminate kid wants to be a hair dresser. Jack is very wealthy; he gives Kathleen enough money to quit her jobs and move in with him. Really, he gives her enough to do that three times without feeling it. He might not be so sure of what love is, either. He knows how to care, however. That's probably enough for now. 

Kathleen and Co. move into the commune, right under the same roof as Jack and Rose, and Rose is furious. She feels she's been lied to. Almost like her lover had cheated on her. Jack explains that this is only an experiment and that he wants Rose to get used to people her age. This, of course, backfires. Why? Because we need a movie. Such in the same way that Jack is sick. There's plot, and then there's point. Rebecca Miller can't seem to separate the two. There are moments in film where character traits and personalities are slyly revealed to be merely parts of the story, and that's when you know the screenplay is thin. Unfortunate, too, about the screenplay - there's a lot going on, but not enough time allowed to focus on each item. Rose wants to sleep with her father, her father is dying, Rose keeps trying to win her father away from Kathleen by acting out and "getting even". Perhaps these were the wrong boys her age to introduce her too, never mind the fact that he's dating their mother. But, there you have it. That's our story. 

There are fundamental elements of this drastically independent drama that seem studio built. In the middle of the film, while Rose is acting out and trying to steal her father's attention, there are events that if they were to happen to you at the same pace they happen in the film, you'd be having the worst day of your life. And the events in the middle of the film are summed up too neatly; the conclusions belie the originality of the story itself. It's almost as if the film is afraid to be independent, and must answer its own questions dependent on standard formulas. There are well-made sequences, and the performances in the film are universally exquisite. Kudos go to Camilla Belle for displaying more range than she's ever been allowed to and standing beside Daniel Day-Lewis without missing a beat. His character, per usual for Day-Lewis, winds up being internalized to the point of smoldering emotive behavior. Jack is the result of the studying Day-Lewis did. Not just a character he's playing. There's a scene between the two where, in the middle of the night, Rose's affection for her father could have gone too far - Jack's reaction is exactly what you might expect. And it's a perfect scene. The only time a normal direction made sense in the screenplay. Too bad the two other hours couldn't have felt that well conceived.