THE BALLAD OF JACK AND ROSE

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


        Blue State DNA flows in the veins of Rebecca Miller and Daniel Day-Lewis.  Their “Ballad of Jack and Rose” is a fractious mix of the sensibilities of the modern liberal as the conscience of society with the lingering utopianism of the 1960s.  It is also a metaphorical study of the loss of innocence, and love between a father and daughter.  Often absorbing, occasionally trite, the movie is a personal statement by a husband and wife who have too many thoughts to fit in one movie. 

 

        Let’s grab a few of those threads.  Jack (Daniel Day-Lewis) has lived for years on the commune he co-founded in 1967.  Abandoned in this beautiful isolation by his wife and friends, he has raised his daughter Rose (Camilla Belle) who is now sixteen.  We know at the outset that Jack is dying of heart disease, that Rose will need to touch the real world, and that Jack has to figure out how to smooth the transition. 

 

        To protect Rose, Jack lures his off- island girl friend Kathleen (Catherine Keener) and her two sons to the sod house where wildly divergent values create collision at every turn.  The actors who play the visiting family don’t do well by their roles, but the script doomed them to being outsiders both to the lifestyle and the philosophy within Jack’s untouched world.

 

        A wonderful scene unfolds when Rose projects on the wall a home movie from the old commune days.  There is her mother, along with the drugs, sex, abandon and excess of the 60s that have been romanticized by her father over time.  He has raised Rose with the good he remembers.

 

        The real world is sneaking up on Jack in the form of Marty Rance (Beau Bridges), a developer who has brought his bulldozers and off-island values to Jack’s beloved island wetlands.  Some in the audience will see Jack’s last stand as the act of an eco-terrorist, others as a gesture of a heroic activist.  Credit Beau Bridges with giving his villain enough humanity to make us listen to his side of the argument.

 

        The tranquil beauty of the early story has to be punctured, and it carries a big lesson:  nothing very good ever lasts for very long.  We build a world, and then time carries away small flecks of happiness every moment of the day until it is gone – and then we start all over again. 

Daniel Day-Lewis convinces us completely of the tyranny of the pure idealist who insists on his own imperatives of right and wrong.  Playing his daughter, Camilla Belle is a great natural beauty with intelligent eyes that announce her film presence. 

 

        Just when the movie reaches its natural ending, director Miller adds a short scene that yanks it from mystery and symbolism and drowns it in the ordinary.  Your experience of this interesting film won’t be diminished if you close your eyes for the “Two years later” final scene.

 


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