Tribeca 2012: ‘Jack and Diane’ mistakes distinctiveness for greatness

Jack and Diane
Written by Bradley Rust Gray
Directed by Bradley Rust Gray
USA, 2012

Controversy in filmmaking is so sought out, especially in smaller independent films depended on plot devices, that it’s almost becoming an overplayed, stale commodity. Racism, sexism, pretty much any ism, has been retold and revitalized over and over again begging the question of whether or not modern taboos have anything new to say. Yet when disputable films do say something loudly, as in the case with Gray’s Jack and Diane, are they necessarily making it clear? Does distinctive filmmaking always need to be coined as “fresh” or “unique” just because it’s different? In the case of Jack, combining a first-love story with horror, the message might as well be mute.

Jack (Riley Keough) is a crass tomboy, Diane (Juno Temple) is an airy pretty girl, and they fall intensely in love. After stumbling into Jack’s paraphyletic store one summer day in NYC, the girls hit it off and a whirlwind of teenage mischief ensues as they stay up late clubbing, breaking-and-entering, and paying no mind to the rules of Diane’s aunt. Opposites attract, sex is prevalent, and their worlds come crashing down when Diane reveals that she must leave the city for school in Europe at the end of the summer.  Haven’t we seen this before?

Treading the line of a gay Like Crazy, the film strays away from the conventional star-crossed lovers’ story by incorporating blunt tones of horror. As the struggle to maintain their budding relationship becomes harder, Dianne must also conceal the dark and violent visions that are consuming her emotions. From the first scene the film doesn’t dance around the scare factor of their relationship. Diane’s increasing nosebleeds as she gets more attached to Jack, her dreams of being a mutated monster slaughtering her love and the film’s use of stop-motioned hair wrapping around body organs all contribute to the film’s dark demeanor – but does so obnoxiously.

What could be conceived as a metaphor, whether it’s about their forbidden love or Diane’s anxiety with separating from Jack, or if it’s actually Diane’s mental state, doesn’t really matter. The horror elements stick out like a toothache, and instead of consuming the audience’s emotions alongside Diane, brings them right outside the film and feels completely out of place. Unlike the love story laced with dark undertones it wants to be, the film comes across oddly as tone-deaf, evolving as its own nightmare.  Jack should take a lesson from a comparable film, She Monkeys, which exquisitely dances the line of horror and controversy, love and darkness – all done subtly. Sometimes words can speak volumes more than sentences, or else what we get is noise –unclear and meaningless.

Chris Clemente

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