Thursday, March 03, 2016

Jack of the Red Hearts

It's an odd coincidence that Boston Common has been playing a movie about autism the week after they had one about bipolar disorder, right? It's not like they're building a program - it's just the week these things had their release - but it's still an odd thing to cluster like that.

This movie mostly caught my interest because Famke Janssen was in it, although that probably should have been a warning, as she's often been the best thing in a disappointing movie. Still, it also caught my eye for being written and directed by women as well as pretty much having women and girls in nearly ever key role. Not something you should necessarily have to look for, but I'd just read a column about someone who was taking a challenge to make sure he watched an average of one film directed by a woman per week and noticing that, unless you were really searching things out as opposed to just trying to be a little more conscientious within your usual habits, it could be pretty darn difficult. I think I do a little better than others on this count, but, go on, guess which other film playing at this 19-plex could be described that way(*).

One other thing that kind of surprised me was the set of previews playing for it, almost all for animated or other kid-focused films, likely because this was a rare live-action film rated PG, even if it wasn't particularly aimed at young viewers. Before going in, I figured that there was about a 107% chance of the awful and ubiquitous Miracles from Heaven trailer being included, given how they both seem to have a sort of "screw experts, you just need a good heart to get past these very real problems" thing going on. Surprisingly not the case, so I guess even sure things sometimes don't come to pass.

Jack of the Red Hearts

* * (out of four)
Seen 28 February 2016 in AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, DCP)

I don't know much about raising kids or autism, let alone the combination of the two, but I probably know just enough to find Jack of the Red Hearts a bit more alarming than it was perhaps meant to be. The filmmakers just don't seem to have enough darkness in their heart to be cruel to their characters or audience, even if the alternative seems to be trying to sell a good outcome that comes from bad decisions.

"Jack", in this case, is short for "Jacqueline", the name of an eighteen-year-old dropout (AnnaSophia Robb) who is already mastering the basics of con artistry and is for obvious reasons considered a bad influence on the sister still in the foster care system (Sophia Anne Caruso), even if she's not the one who gave the younger girl the nickname "Coke". Kay (Famke Jansen), on the other hand, is the mother of autistic eleven-year-old Glory (Taylor Richardson), looking to hire a companion for her daughter and go back to work. Jack waylays the actual highly-qualified caregiver and takes her place, only to find that not only is Glory a low-functioning handful without a savant upside, but there's also a cute son (Israel Broussard) who quickly develops both a crush on the supposedly mid-twenties "Donna" and suspicions that she's not what she seems.

This seems like a fairly unlikely set-up to start with - Kay and her husband Mark (Scott Cohen) seem engaged and worried enough where their daughter's care is concerned to hire someone without an interview and pay her cash under the table even if money is tight, though that's the only way this story works - and it never deals with that sensibly. Director Janet Grillo and writer Jennifer Deaton have everybody suspect far too little until something really obvious happens, and they're so intent on making a story about characters trying to overcome family challenges that they can't do anything with how Jack is being predatory, either as black comedy or just to make her inevitable growth into a less selfish person a greater accomplishment.

Full review on EFC.

(*) Kung Fu Panda 3, and it has a co-director.

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