Though the story is predictable, it never goes to syrup

Janie Jones

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            Janie Jones is almost a good movie. With a promising premise and good actors, we root for it all the way, disappointed but not annoyed when it falls short. One problem here is that the script doesn't live up to the promise. The characters, once introduced, aren't developed enough to intrigue us. We want to learn more about who they are from the dialogue and that doesn't happen.
            Ethan Brand (Alessandro Nivola) is hanging out with his disheveled band mates between shows in third rate roadside nightclubs when Mary Ann (Frances Fisher) arrives to announce that she is here to give Ethan his daughter from a one night stand of 13 years ago so she can go to rehab for her addiction to drugs and alcohol. Mary Ann is sufficiently shaky and damaged that it seems she is probably headed not to rehab but to more of her life of ruin. Ethan denies his paternity. Mary Ann's solution? She drives off, abandoning her 13 year-old daughter Janie Jones to a drunken Ethan on a road trip to his own kind of ruin. And we, the audience are on a torturous road to the predictable.
            As a rock performer, Ethan has gone straight downhill in direct proportion to his drinking. Looking repeatedly for people to trigger his anger, he sparks both fist fights and cancelled tour dates. He is a former rock singer who has become a wasted has been. Alone, on their own after the band defects, Janie begins to sing just a little with Ethan. And so we see two things on the horizon: transcendence and a syrupy ending. Mercifully, we are spared. Though the story is predictable, it never goes to syrup.
            How can this be? It works because Alessandro Nivola and Abigail Breslin are quite simply terrific in their roles. Nivola manages to let us know, even when Ethan is at his worst, that he is not a mean human being, just a drunken one who could recover. And Breslin is outstanding in her very subtle way of conveying her sadness, her vulnerability, and yet still, her sense of herself. They have good support from the minor players - Frances Fisher as Ethan's mother, Peter Stormare as Sloan, the band manager who tries to hold things together, and David Lee Smith as  Officer Dickerson who tries his best to protect Janie. But this is essentially a two character story, and both Breslin and Nivola touch a true chord.
            There are long stretches here where the dialogue could tell us more about them, but that's not to be and it's the major flaw in the film. Unfortunately, neither the lukewarm songs nor Breslin's thin guitar playing are enough to fill the silences. What does do the job is Breslin's extraordinary ability to suggest her courage and silent acceptance of whatever comes. She and Nivola are so good that we are perfectly happy to blame the scriptwriter and the director for the flaws.


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