Saturday, October 26, 2013

Jack & Diane

Directed byBradley Rust Gray.
2012. Rated R, 105 minutes.
Riley Keough
Cara Seymour
Kylie Minogue
Neal Huff
Haviland Morris
Michael Chernus
Jen Ponton

Diane (Temple) finds herself in a part of town she’s unfamiliar with, having lost her cell phone and unable to stop her nose from bleeding. Looking for a phone to use, she wanders into the store where Jack (Keough) works. The two ladies, yes Jack is a girl, have a love at first sight moment and wind up spending the rest of the day together. This also becomes all night as they, both underage, sneak into a nightclub. They do some talking, some drinking, and eventually, some kissing. Throughout, Diane isn't feeling too well. Her nose keeps bleeding and she vomits. In the morning, she returns home to be grounded by Aunt Linda (Seymour). Since love must persist, she continues to see Jack and the girls fall hard for one another. There are two issues at hand, though. First, Diane appears to literally be some sort of monster. Second, she’s supposed to be going away to school in a few weeks. Her tumultuous relationship with Jack ensues.

Though this is a romance, the element of horror runs throughout the movie. Every so often, there is a cutaway to what we can only assume is going on inside Diane’s body. It shows hair seemingly growing and moving through her innards. Between these shots, nosebleeds keep happening. However, our concentration is on the issues our troubled teens are having. This includes dealing with the baggage they each brought into the relationship. It is fairly interesting since the two lovebirds appear to be from opposite ends of the universe. Diane is confused about her future, her relationship with Aunt Linda, her twin sister, and which lines she can and cannot cross with Jack. On the other hand, Jack struggles mightily with authority figures, the recent death of her brother, how much she should commit to Diane, and at least in my opinion, personal hygiene.

The problem is that the horror meant to prop up the story actually undermines it. Initially, it’s set up as if sexual arousal brings about the physical change in Diane that gives us our monster, a la Cat People. Later, it appears Jack might suffer the same affliction. Then, it’s abandoned all together as the movie ends. This means that our monster is one hundred percent metaphor with no literal bearing on the plot. This can work. After all, it was done to great effect in Beasts of the Southern Wild. In that movie, the beasts were not only a constant part of the story, their plot line came to a head. Though open to interpretation, they clearly mean something. That doesn't happen here and what exactly this creature is supposed to symbolize is murky, at best. Is it supposed to represent the raging hormones of teenagers? The dangers of teenage love and/or sex? The dangers of lesbian love? All of these? None of these? The questions do more than nag. They leave a void in the narrative. What the movie is trying to say is far too ambiguous, even for me. In the immortal words of the great Roger Ebert (R.I.P.): “If you have to ask what something symbolized, it didn't.”

I am more than willing to say maybe I just don’t get it. Someone else may watch this and instantly form some tangible idea about the monster and how it informs Jack and Diane’s relationship. This is fine. Just understand that whether or not you can do this is key to your enjoyment of the movie. Our two leads are intriguing enough to fly the plane. They need the other aspects of the film to step up and land the thing. For me, that never happens.

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