Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The movie that cried wolf: JACK & DIANE (Review)

JACK & DIANE (2012)

review by AARON ALLEN

Directed and written by Bradley Rust Gray

Starring Riley Keough, Juno Temple and Kylie Minogue

Let's be clear. Jack & Diane is not a horror movie.

Despite what you may have seen posted on other horror news outlets, Jack & Diane (now available on VOD, DVD, and Bluray from Magnolia Home Entertainment) is not a werewolf movie.

Yes, there are scenes in which a misshapen wolf-like beast covered in tumours does appear, and there's a brief sequence of gore, but it's all metaphor. Instead, Jack & Diane is really a love story about two young girls who meet over the summer and awaken in each other new, uncertain feelings. It's also an incredibly slow and excessively ponderous movie that could do with a lot more literal werewolf action, if you ask me. 

Bad Wolf

In Jack & Diane, a strange and aloof young girl named Diane (Juno Temple) visiting the US for the summer meets flirtatious tom-boy Jack (Riley Keough) and the two become instant lovers. I'm not sure why, however. While Jack's certainly the more fleshed-out character (we get a sense of her family history and her own relationship with her sexuality), Diane is like some kind of woodland creature: wide-eyed, quiet, and kind of skittish. It's never quite clear what they see in each other. Does Jack just want to get off with Diane, or does she feel a deeper connection with Diane that she doesn't want to admit? Is Diane simply naive or does she too feel genuine love? It's hard to tell because director Bradley Rust Gray is too good at showing us what young love is really like: too bold, too brash, too selfish, and kind of stupid. I know we're meant to feel for Jack and Diane as their summer romance goes through all the trials and tribulations of young love, but since the characters are fairly shallow in characterization and motive, and their romance is predicated on a plot necessity rather than some true emotion, I couldn't find a way into their heads and hearts. Instead, I feel like the older adult watching and scratching my head as two love-struck kids make questionable decisions.

"Little ditty about Jack and Diane..."

The film's pace is also a real slog. Jack & Diane feels like a longer movie than it is because very little happens in the story. We're treated to many quiet and slow moments of conversation between Jack and Diane and weird hints about Diane (what is with her frequent nose bleeds?) but even these scenes don't advance the story or relationship to any great degree. Again, I feel that director Bradley Rust Gray has given us a very authentic snapshot of young teen life; unfortunately, as is true in real teen life, Jack and Diane are quite shallow characters. These kids don't have anything very profound or interesting to say about life because they don't yet understand the world or themselves. They sit around exchanging furtive glances and being awkward. As a romantic couple, they do not make for a compelling movie -- especially if you follow the clues in a literal way and expect Diane to become an actual werewolf. Then you're just biding time for a payoff that's never going to happen.

Jack & Diane: The Movie that Cried Wolf

Perhaps it's because the characters are so inexperienced in love and sex that Diane's vision of herself as a werewolf (in addition to the intersecting animated scenes that depict hair coiling through the inside of a body) are meant to represent the feelings that she does not yet have words or rational thought to explain. Then again, these scenes really stick in my craw. I could accept them as metaphors if it weren't for the constant nosebleeds that Diane has in Jack's presence, which coincide with the metaphorical sequences that lead one to think that Diane is literally undergoing some horrific bodily transformation. I understand the intention of these monstrous sequences, but they are incredibly misleading since none of their sub-textual themes (i.e. love as monstrous or stigmatization of homosexuality) are ever given much presence in the narrative or addressed in the literal aspects of the film. Because there are some good performances in Jack & Diane, it's a frustrating shame that the film couldn't find a way to integrate its horror elements in a way that didn't feel like an exploitative cheat to string genre-fans along through a movie that otherwise may not interest them.

Jack gets lippy with Diane
 And perhaps that's the joke of it all. One common ploy used by countless low-rent exploitation movies is to lure non-genre audiences to the grindhouse with the promise of seeing shocking lesbian sex (or any sex and nudity, really) only to never really live up to the promise. Think of all those women in prison movies, for example. Now here comes a movie that turns the table. It's about lesbian sex (which is never played for shock value or, as some have called it, "Dykesploitation") yet attempts to lure a genre audience that's looking for horror and gore.

A lot of genre fans are going to feel burned by Jack & Diane, but I hope they don't take it out on the movie's lesbian drama. There's too much negative sexist chatter about this movie online that's denigrating the main characters as lesbians or ripping on the film for not conforming to a heterosexual fantasy about objectified female homosexuality. This is not the problem with Jack & Diane. It should be praised for presenting its lesbian lovers in a natural, human way. There's prefect validity in a dramatic romance about young lesbian lovers. Jack & Diane, however, is not good enough to be that movie.

And for horror fans, Jack & Diane's likely to be remembered as the movie that cried wolf.

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