Posted on Monday, April 23rd, 2012 by Angie Han
Sometime around 2007, Juno BFFs Ellen Page and Olivia Thirlby signed themselves up to reunite as teenage lesbian werewolves on Bradley Rust Gray‘s Jack & Diane. Funding fell through, however, and after years of delays, both actresses quietly dropped out of the project. Page was then replaced by Alison Pill, who in turn was replaced by Juno Temple, while Thirlby’s part was recast with Riley Keough.
This year, Gray’s completed Jack & Diane finally made its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival. And while much about the film is tough to understand, what’s clear is that Page and Thirlby have dodged a bullet by leaving the project early on.
The story, also written by Gray, centers around two teen girls. Diane (Temple) is a soft, wide-eyed innocent, while the tomboyish Jack (Keough) walks with a streetwise swagger. The pair meet cute one day in New York City and quickly develop a passionate romance. But there are two major roadbumps standing in the way of happily ever after. One is the fact that Diane is in town for only a week before she heads to fashion school in Paris; the other is that Diane’s blossoming sexuality is leading to monstrous dreams.
Jack & Diane starts out promising enough. A creepy vision of hair-rope winding through flesh lends a dark fairy-tale aura, and an opening scene of Diane getting attacked sets up terrors to come. But it’s all downhill from there. Stuffed with slow, pointless scenes that go nowhere and tell us nothing, the 93-minute Jack & Diane feels both interminably long and severely undercooked.
The problems start early. Jack and Diane’s first encounter sees them engaging in halting, half-hearted small talk for what feels like hours before they finally decide to just make out. (In their defense, kissing has to be way more interesting than whatever inane conversation they were having.) The whole scene winds up telling us little about either character or the nature of their attraction to each other and is boring to boot. Yet we’re expected to believe it was a night of such passion that the two are now soulmates.
Gray does show some promise in his treatment of Jack & Diane‘s horror-movie side. Gory, mysterious visions like the one that opened the movie recur throughout, and while they get old after a while, they never stop being creepy. There are also a few nice moments of suspense. In one of the movie’s rare highlights, the couple find themselves locked in a pitch-black basement. For several minutes, only the occasional flash of Diane’s disposable camera allows us to see what’s happening, even as one of the girls gets attacked. It’s a tense, genuinely frightening sequence. So it’s hugely disappointing that the werewolf angle builds to nothing at all. I left wondering why it was even brought up in the first place.
Still, much of this could be forgiven if Jack & Diane at least gave us a convincing romance to rally around. But remember how I said the first scene tells us nothing about Jack, Diane, or their romance? Neither does any other scene. By the end of the film, we still only understand each girl in the broadest strokes, and their affair feels less like the natural result of all-consuming first love than a plot point decreed by a distant screenwriter. Making matters worse, Keough and Temple are fine individually but have zero chemistry together. If Jack and Diane didn’t spend so much damn time talking about how much they like each other (Jack: “I want to unzip myself and put you inside me, like a sleeping bag”), you’d have no clue that these girls felt anything more than a casual interest in each other. It’s a very, very bad sign for a cinematic romance when the only thing telegraphing the passion is the dialogue.
On paper, a teen lesbian werewolf romance sounds like a heady combination, or at least the setup for an interesting failure. I give Gray credit for coming up with an unusual twist on the horror and teen romance genres, and for at least trying to do something novel with Jack & Diane. But the sad truth is that all the effort in the world doesn’t guarantee good results. In practice, Gary not only fails to deliver on the premise, he fails to deliver, period.
/Film rating: 3.0 out of 10.0