Film-Forward Review: [THE BALLAD OF JACK & ROSE]

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Directed & Written by: Rebecca Miller.
Produced by: Lemore Syvan.
Director of Photography: Ellen Kuras.
Edited by: Sabine Hoffman.
Released by: IFC.
Country of Origin: USA. 112 min. Rated: R.
With: Daniel Day-Lewis, Camilla Belle, Catherine Keener, Paul Dano, Ryan McDonald, Jena Malone, Jason Lee & Beau Bridges.

On an island off of the East Coast, an aging and sickly widower, Jack (Daniel Day Lewis), and his beautiful 16-year-old daughter Rose (Camilla Belle) live isolated on the remnants of a ‘60s commune. Intruding into their paradise with a loaded U-Haul is the weary Kathleen (Catherine Keener), a single mother with two teenage sons; the overweight Rodney (Ryan McDonald), who wants to be a hairdresser, and the stoner Thaddeus (Paul Dano). “She’s so regular,” Rose complains to her father. Instead of warning his daughter about Kathleen’s arrival, Jack lies, telling her Kathleen and her sons are simply visiting. Rose has been so sheltered and used to her own routine she doesn’t know restraint or how to compromise. She takes aim, literally, at the interloper, copying her father who had earlier fired upon encroaching developers. When one confrontation is diffused, Rose surreptitiously strikes again. With nowhere to go, Kathleen determinedly stands her ground, while Rose takes no prisoners as she also passive-aggressively directs her anger toward her father, using her sexual coming of age as a weapon.

This is perhaps Keener’s best role; she’s at her most fragile here. Embattled by both Jack and Rose, Kathleen is the most sympathetic character. As long as she and her boys are in the commune, the film remains believable and taut. In contrast, Jack’s condescension towards the working-class Kathleen, shared in the exchanged glances with his daughter, is off-putting. When the father and daughter are left to their own devices, the film plods along with four endings. Director Rebecca Miller doesn’t evade the nature of their relationship; it is unambiguously sexual. But with her flat line readings, Camilla Belle at times seems a bit distant from her challenging character. For a teenage girl who swears to father that “When you die, I’m going to die,” the operatic ending lacks passion. Kent Turner
March 25, 2005



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