Bradley Rust Gray is the guy who gave us The Exploding Girl back in 2009, that guerrilla mumblecore movie that I know has its fair share of hardcore fans out there and that has this seriously terrific performance from Zoe Kazan in it. Now we‚(TM)re getting his follow-up to that one with a film that, back when The Exploding Girl was making the rounds, I remember had Ellen Page and Olivia Thirlby attached to the lead roles, which sounded amazing. Now the roles are tackled by Juno Temple and Riley Keough and, while I‚(TM)m certainly not assigning blame to them, the result is decidedly far from amazing.
I really am not assigning blame to those two actresses by the way, it‚(TM)s just that I loved the idea of Ellen Page and Olivia Thirlby reuniting so soon after Juno and whatnot. As for these two, I don‚(TM)t also assign blame because I like them, I think Juno Temple is bound to become a hot commodity sooner rather than later and even though I still don‚(TM)t have that much of an opinion of Elvis‚(TM) granddaughter, Ms. Keough, she has been in The Runaways and Magic Mike before this, and those were two damn good movies.
Let me tell you more or less what this film is all about. The movie‚(TM)s set in New York, much like The Exploding Girl was, and Jack (Ms. Keough) and Diane (Ms. Temple) are two teenage girls who meet and spend their first night in the throes of passion. Diane‚(TM)s innocence slowly works her way under Jack‚(TM)s tough exterior, but then Jack finds out Diane is moving to Paris to pursue a degree in fashion she pushes her away. As Diane deals with her emotions, with love and fear, her body starts acting up on those emotions in really violent ways, as we get two girls that are ultimately just trying to find a way to make their young love last.
That basic stuff in that premise, by the way, is one I like and I could see becoming a really great film, but for some reason Jack and Diane sort of felt like Bradley Rust Gray wasn‚(TM)t as crazy with his own material (he also wrote this film). The stuff that happens when Diane has her emotions manifesting themselves in such frightening ways are of course loaded with metaphorical meaning, but a part of me felt that was unnecessary because all of those things were there in the story itself in its stripped down version.
Mr. Rust should really have just let his story be, trust both himself as a director as well as his pair of stars to be able to pull of a movie that‚(TM)s essentially about what a young first love really feels like, about all the ups and downs that come with it, about the ecstasy and the confusion, about the fear and the adrenaline. That story is there, for sure, but it‚(TM)s too bogged down with one of its protagonists becoming a fucking werewolf to really come out and shine on its own, that metaphor for the wild feelings of young love being too much for the real story that‚(TM)s there to really connect.
Yes, Diane becomes a werewolf. Yeah, you get it, their passion so deep it literally awakens something inside of her. That awakening, by the way, is actually done in these rather neat brief animated sequences done by the Brothers Quay. But not even that helps Mr. Rust, you just see him scrambling along, apparently not entirely sure if he wanted to go for the romance with some fantasy in it or with a gore movie with some sex sprinkled in. Disappointing when you consider how cohesive he made The Exploding Girl feel, and even more so when you consider the sublime performance he got from Zoe Kazan in that one and how his two leads here pale in comparison.
Again, that‚(TM)s not a dig to the actresses. I mean, Ms. Keough doesn‚(TM)t have that much presence but I can see her eventually becoming quite the charming actress, plus I had fun just thinking how much she reminded me of Sigourney Weaver. And Ms. Temple is an actress who always does her job, and does it well, effortlessly conveying the anxiety and confusion of Diane. The thing is they‚(TM)re not actresses who can elevate material like this, at least not yet. These are characters that aren‚(TM)t fully fleshed out and as a consequence these two actresses don‚(TM)t really know what to do with them and it all feels kind of stale.
Visually the film is what you‚(TM)d expect, something stylized as hell, kind of minimal and abstract and, much like the director‚(TM)s previous effort, containing quite a few close-ups. It just didn‚(TM)t work me, as much as I honestly wanted to, I felt kind of bored because this was prime territory for a really intimate exploration of a lesbian relationship and these girls pretty much don‚(TM)t talk at all, and when they do you just don‚(TM)t feel it. Yes, it was awesome that the Brothers Quay went ahead and made the animated stuff, and while visually those are amazing they neither scare nor add that much depth to the narrative.
Yes, Jack and Diane is, undoubtedly, quite a curiosity of a movie, and maybe it will find itself a little cult audience if it all goes well. But to me it all just felt overly pretentious in a way, the pacing was just totally off and Bradley Rust Gray seemed like a director who had done a really interesting film before and now just didn‚(TM)t know what to do with the material he came up with. Interesting, for sure (I mean, teenage lesbian werewolf lovers, come on), that‚(TM)s why I‚(TM)ll check what he does next, but nothing to write home about (at least not in a good way).