Film Review: Janie JonesEven Jeff Bridges at his best couldn’t redeem this unrewarding retread of too many films we’ve seen before, including his own <i>Crazy Heart.</i>
Abigail Breslin here plays Janie, who hasn’t got a gun but a new daddy, Ethan (Alessandro Nivola), a rock singer with whom she’s been dumped by her drug-addicted mother, Mary Ann (Elisabeth Shue). Mary Ann was knocked up by Ethan years ago and wackily surprises him with this sudden gift of parenthood. Thirteen-year old Janie gets to discover what life on the road with a band is like, as well as her father’s mercurially difficult nature which regularly alienates his band members, and discovers her own nascent musical talent.
Janie Jones is basically Crazy Heart with a kid, and serves no real purpose other than to showcase Breslin as she makes that always uneasy transition from adorable movie moppet to more grown-up roles. (Someone get her a sexy bloodsucker of a role like Anna Paquin now!) Although I wasn’t a particular fan of the overrated Little Miss Sunshine (she shrieked a little too much in it for my taste), she proves herself a solid actress here, and nicely underplays her role with a canny watchfulness that strongly promotes viewer sympathy. Her singing, however, is an indistinctive “chilled white wine” affair seemingly emblematic of her generation’s idea of musicality (as well as the one before that and, probably, God help us, the one to come).
Breslin is the only reason to bother with the film, which has an unappealing, grimy “realistic” look and is very been-there/done-that in cinematic terms. Nothing in David M. Rosenthal’s uninspired script or direction has redeeming freshness—by comparison, Sofia Coppola’s very slight Daddy Love tale Somewhere seems a model of conceptual depth and richness, and Janie Jones has none of that film’s at least watchable chic. Even the music here is indifferent.
Nivola obviously possesses a lot of charisma and compelling acting chops for a fascinated Rosenthal, but, watching him obnoxiously flail about and get into endless scrapes, you might just find yourself wondering from his first frame, “Why should I care about this self-destructive creep?” Shue has little more than a cameo role—what happened to her career after being Oscar-nominated for Leaving Las Vegas is one of the big industry mysteries—and that’s rather a shame, as even seeing her go into rehab might have proved more rewarding than all those endless band fights on the van, droning concert sequences and, yes, scenes of uneasy familial bonding and eventual healing.