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Janie Jones (2010)
DVD Released: 1/24/2010
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/22/2012
For as long as I can remember, I've been a fan of (what programmers like to call) "Alternative Rock", especially in the late 80s and early 90s. However, I always found that label to be a bit weird. I was into bands like The Replacements, The Cult, R.E.M. and Soul Asylum. They were called "Alternative", but to me, it was simply rock with guitars and drums. For the most part, it didn't sound all that different from what was being played on the "Classic Rock" station. I often have similar feelings about "Independent Films". Years ago, that term referred to movies which were made way outside of the studio system and which were often self-financed. Today, "Independent Film" has become more of a sub-genre, referring to quirky, often slice-of-life movies. However, these movies are often no different from their Hollywood counterparts. A great example of this is Janie Jones.
As Janie Jones opens, Mary Ann Jones (Elizabeth Shue) brings her daughter Janie (Abigail Breslin) to a concert in Little Rock, Arkansas. Mary Ann goes backstage to see Ethan Brand (Alessandro Nivola), and in front of his band -- David (Joel Moore), Chuck (Frank Whaley), and Billy (Rodney Eastman) -- and his girlfriend, Iris (Brittany Snow), informs him that he has a daughter. Ethan claims that he doesn't remember Mary Ann and dismisses her, despite the fact that Mary Ann tells him that she is going to rehab and needs someone to take care of Janie. As the show starts, Mary Ann disappears and Janie is left alone. She calls the police, who inform Ethan that he must take her (or she'll go to a foster home). He reluctantly allows Janie to go on tour with the band, and this creates a series of troubles for Ethan which sees him losing most everything which he has come to know. Yet, through getting to know Janie, he will discover some things which he has been missing.
Janie Jones premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and is presented on DVD as part of the "Tribeca Film" series from New Video. This implies sort of an art house, free spirit kind of movie. So imagine my surprise that the film somehow manages to bring in every cliché that it possibly can. This is the kind of film which you could watch with your handy dandy cliché checklist by your side and constantly tick off one thing after another. Let’s take a look at just a few of these; strung out mother, illegitimate child, self-destructive rock star, road-weary band manager, goofy bass player (OK, that may not be a movie cliché...), “life on the road” montages, seedy motels, and the list goes on and on, but I don’t want to give too much away. Actually, that would be a challenge, as even the least astute viewer will be able to guess the kind of turmoil with Ethan creates and what the outcomes will be. A few elements are treated as surprises, but you’ll see them coming.
The movie also suffers from a lack of emotional depth. Ethan is an odd character, as he’s belligerent and often angry, but rarely shows other emotions. And yet, the movie wants us to think that he’s undergoing an emotional journey to match his geographical one. I don’t know if this is due to Nivola’s performance or the writing, but we don’t get very far under the surface with Ethan. Ethan quickly learns than Janie plays guitar and the two used that to bond. I kept waiting for this to be a way for Ethan to re-discover the joy in music, but this never happens. In the end, Ethan seems to like Janie, but we aren’t sure why.
So, what’s left in Janie Jones? The music and the acting. Unfortunately, the music is fairly pedestrian. The songs played by the Ethan Brand Experiment want to rock but never really get there, and the songs played during the multiple driving montages are too mellow for their own good. For our sakes, the acting here is pretty good. Breslin, who gets top billing, continues to grow as an actress. She plays frightened and anxious very well here, as she must deal with this new situation. Shue’s role is small, but she’s believable as a strung out, desperate woman. Moore and Whaley offer some much needed levity. Stormare usually plays Russian mobsters, so it’s interesting to see him as someone who must be nurturing. Janie Jones plays like a combination ofCrazy Heart and every “baby left on a doorstep” movie that you’ve ever seen. It wants to tell a good story, but the lack of originality and emotional connection really gets in the way.
Janie Jones convinced me that Janie should have been the headline act on DVD courtesy of New Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing only trace amounts of grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look good and the daytime scenes have a nice crispness to them. The nightclub scenes have been given a darker look (probably for thematic reasons), but they still look fine. There is some mild aritfacting here. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The music may not be impressive, but it does sound good, as the individual instruments are distinct and the bass is pleasing. The stereo and surround effects during the bar scenes are well-done, adding an element of “being there”.
The Janie Jones DVD contains only two extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Writer/Director David Rosenthal and Producers Keith Kjarval and Eric Bassett. The other is a 5-minute reel of red carpet interviews from the Tribeca Film Festival with Breslin, Nivola, and Rosenthal, who give very general information about the movie.
Review Copyright 2012 by Mike Long