Drama and (some) humor at a failed '70s commune
The most sensible people in Rebecca Miller's disappointing third feature, "The Ballad of Jack and Rose," appear to be the ones who got away...
Special to The Seattle Times
The most sensible people in Rebecca Miller's disappointing third feature, "The Ballad of Jack and Rose," appear to be the ones who got away.
The mother of 16-year-old Rose (Camilla Belle) and the long-gone mate to Rose's father, Jack (Daniel Day-Lewis), never turn up, not even in flashback, and neither do the other ex-members of their island commune. We learn little about them, yet they're a formidable presence simply because their decision to abandon the place seems more and more logical as the movie proceeds.
The year is 1986, and Jack and Rose are the only remaining members of a commune established in the early 1970s. The self-absorbed, manipulative Jack took Rose out of school when she was 11, and his attempts to educate and isolate her have encouraged an almost incestuous relationship.
It's also self-destructive. He's dying, they both know it, and Rose declares that she'll kill herself the moment he's gone. But Jack decides to have one last fling at family life, by inviting his mainland girlfriend Kathleen (Catherine Keener) and her teenage sons Rodney (Ryan McDonald) and Thaddius (Paul Dano) to move in with them.
Meanwhile, a developer (Beau Bridges) infuriates Jack by building a housing tract near his property. Disaster ensues. Unfortunately, the clashes between Jack and the developer, and between Kathleen and the homicidally jealous Rose (who threatens Kathleen with a shotgun and a poisonous snake), rarely rise above the most obvious kind of soap opera. Cluttering the soundtrack with several Bob Dylan songs and two versions of "I Put a Spell on You" does nothing to elevate the material.
Only the comic touches begin to click. Miller and her actors, especially Keener, Belle and McDonald (whose character sensibly sees danger in Rose's prolonged innocence), are at their best exploring the mile-wide generation gap that exists between the adults and the kids, who barely comprehend Jack's failed attempts to "rebuild society on a small scale."The daughter of the late Arthur Miller (and wife of Day-Lewis), Miller isn't blind to the humorous potential of other confrontations, but most of "The Ballad of Jack and Rose" takes itself too seriously. Her earlier films, "Angela" and "Personal Velocity," were sharper and richer.
John Hartl: firstname.lastname@example.org