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Robert Hull [Film Festival 04.24.12] horror drama romance

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You can see what Jack and Diane is trying to do, you can understand it, you can even enjoy moments of it, but the whole thing just doesn’t add up to a satisfying movie.

The idea is to put an interesting twist on the emotional upheaval of first love by adding supernatural and horror elements (did someone mention Carrie?). Our ‘happy’ couple are two young lesbians – just in case coping with amour wasn’t difficult enough, let’s throw some sexuality issues in there too.

Love is a monster is the movie’s tagline, and from this comes a story of Diane (Juno Temple) a wide-eyed English innocent in the Big Apple, who while looking to use a phone to contact her twin sister, stumbles upon Jack (Riley Keough).

The two fall for each other instantly. Jack is street smart, confident, a wiseass, but she senses something in Diane that makes her want to reveal intimate feelings, memories and emotions. Their first-blush love isn’t straightforward, though.

Where director Bradley Rust Gray dares to be different is in the creation of his ‘monster’ elements – and the inclusion of crazy, gory, stop-motion animation (courtesy of the groundbreaking Brothers Quay). Even the movie’s credits – and between scene captions such as ‘Earlier’ and ‘Six Weeks Later’ – have a distinct leaning towards genre moviemaking. Inspired by westerns, Gray has used rope animations for his start and end credits, but the darkness that lies at the heart of this story ensures they look suitably sinister.

As the story progresses, you come to realize that Diane’s visions are the manifestation of the emotions unleashed by being young, in love, and not sure of how, or why, you would shackle those feelings. The animations themselves are visceral and emotive, but unfortunately they don’t rest easy within the movie. Maybe that’s Rust Gray’s intention – to create a sweet love story and set it next to these graphic inserts – but they make the film feel uneven, unsure of itself.

The two young leads definitely have potential, if not quite the presence that would have made their performances leap out at you. There are some nicely judged comic moments, including a beautifully lit bathroom sequence, but there are plenty of mis-fires too: most notably when the banter between Jack and Diane fails to sparkle.

During a post-screening Q&A, Gray discussed the deliberately stilted – um, yeah, ah, hmm – dialogue that as screenwriter he’s responsible for. Sadly it does his cast few favors, often making scenes feel like badly improvised takes that should have been left on the cutting room floor. Perhaps more importantly it also gives the movie a very pedestrian pace. Scenes linger too long where they don’t need to, and the audience just isn’t being served up the sense of passion, fire and fear that you’d expect from people meeting someone who might be ‘the one’. At 110 minutes, Jack and Diane also feels much too long. There isn’t enough story to support this runtime.

Aside from the stop-motion animations, Gray’s camerawork doesn’t seem to want to take any risks. There’s no shot or sequence that really stands out with a visual wow-factor. There were audience gasps during a crash sequence but that was more down to sheer surprise than a stunning piece of visual trickery.

The ‘horror’ elements, when they come, do lift the movie, and the soundtrack rumble that accompanies them gives these sequences a raw and powerful edge. Gray spoke of researching diseases as he investigated how a possible monster would look on screen – and the time was well spent.

Jack and Diane is a strange brew: a movie written for male and female leads then changed, a two-scene appearance from UK and Australian singing ‘legend’ Kylie Minogue, and a soundtrack that pays homage to The Clash, The Fall, and British one-hit wonder a cappella act The Flying Pickets. It’s a mix that shows a great imagination but it’s not a blend that really works this time around.

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