Tribeca 2011 Review: JANIE JONES
Ethan Brand is a struggling rocker (Alessandro Nivola) who is forced to look after the daughter he’s never met before (Abigail Breslin) after her junkie mother abandons her at one of his concerts. The 13 year old happens to be a very talented musician on her own and a lot more mature than most girls her age. Ethan happens to be an unfriendly alcoholic whose life is all about music even though it can’t pay the bills. If you think you know what is going to happen next, you are probably right. While the story offers nothing new, JANIE JONES is still a well-made film that left me with a smile on my face at the end of the screening.
While the film is fairly straightforward, there are still a few ways it manages to take risks. For one thing, I was surprised that the film seems to be going for an R-rating when this type of film is typically a bit cleaner to reach a wider audience. I was also surprised by the character of Ethan Brand, who is the film’s real protagonist. I was surprised because he is such an asshole. He is not likeable at all nor does he start off with any redeeming characteristics. As the late great Blake Snyder would say, he does not “save the cat.”
If you are unaware of Snyder, he was a screenwriter who suggested the main character must do something early in the film to get the audience on board with him, such as saving a cat. When it comes time for him to “save the cat” by looking after Janie when she is abandoned, he is reluctant to even do that. He is forced to take her in and constantly reminds everyone that he doesn’t believe she’s really his kid and doesn’t even remember meeting her mom, despite a valid birth certificate. For a good chunk of the film we could care less about Ethan but because we are invested in Janie, we stick it out.
Then something happens. Slowly we come to feel sorry for Ethan and eventually we begin to root for him. He is self-destructive but he really does love his music. He is not trying to be a rock star for the sex, drugs or money. He is doing it because it is his passion. And when the time comes that he could exploit Janie’s talent, he doesn’t want to do it. It is very obvious that Ethan would evolve into a likeable father figure but it is still an interesting arch to follow.
The other big risk in the film is the music. Writer/Director David M. Rosenthal likes to linger on the musical sequences. Whenever Janie gets upset, she grabs her guitar and sings her heart out. This happens many times throughout the film. When other characters hear her playing and approach her, we always wait until she finishes her song for the scene to continue. It becomes overkill because we get that she loves to play and that is her retreat, we don’t need to see it happen constantly. At one point I actually became suspicious of Janie because of how often she played just close enough for band members and managers to hear her. I thought maybe she was scamming Ethan and she was not really his kid. That being said the music is not half bad and while so many sequences may be unnecessary, it fits in with the film.
The highlight of the film are the performances. Everyone does a great job with the roles, especially Abigail Breslin and Alessando Nivola who both did their own singing and guitar work. The always brilliant Peter Stormare was also fantastic as Brand’s managaer. I especially loved his first scene with Janie when she is still getting used to the band. I also enjoyed seeing Joel Moore (He got rid of the David?) in this since I have always been a fan of his work.
You know exactly what kind of film you are in for with JANIE JONES. It has flaws and lacks some originality but it has heart and solid performances throughout. If the plot description interests you, definitely give this one a watch.
Jerry Cavallaro – www.StuckLikeChuck.com
I HAVE BEEN NOTIFIED THAT THE VERSION OF THE FILM I SAW WAS NOT THE FINAL CUT. I WILL LEAVE THIS REVIEW UP BUT PLEASE NOTE THERE MAY BE CHANGES FROM WHAT IS MENTIONED HERE AND WHAT IS IN THE FINAL FILM. IF GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY, I WILL REVIEW THE FILM AGAIN UPON RELEASE.