Janie Jones is like that old overcoat you put on at summer’s end, or the dance step you know so well. You know exactly how it feels and flows, and you don’t expect any surprises; all you want is the familiar. However, much like that old coat or that dance step, you want to update or learn new things; instead, you’re stuck with the same old routine, which just doesn’t change, no matter how much you want it to. That’s the way Janie Jones plays out â€“ it’s a retread of every â€œunwanted childâ€ movie, differentiated only by its story and performances.
Quite honestly, I felt like I was watching an MTV Unplugged version of this summer’s Real Steel; instead of robot boxing, we have acoustic guitars. Almost every story beat â€“ money issues, the awkward life on the road between two relative strangers united by blood, the gradual involvement of the child in the parent’s business, the grudging acceptance of each other â€“ is identical. However, seeing as how Janie Jones started making the festival rounds last year and is just getting a wide release now, I’m not citing a lack of originalityâ€¦ well, sort of.
You see, in movies like this, the plot points usually follow similar tracks. Similarities can be found in 1973’s Paper Moon, 1985’s Tres Hommes et un couffin (which served as the basis for 1987’s Three Men and a Baby), and other films where one parent drops off their child with the unsuspecting biological other half. In a lot of these movies, the getting-to-know-you stiltedness is played up for laughs; however, in the world of Janie Jones, there are no laughs. There are only two people clinging onto each other for dear life as the world dissolves around them, but they have to build it back up somehow, no matter what it takes.
Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) takes center stage as the titular Janie, having been abandoned by her drugged-out mother (Elisabeth Shue, Adventures in Babysitting) at a rock club where Janie’s biological father Ethan Brand (Alessandro Nivola, Face/Off) happens to be playing. Completely self-involved to the point where calling him a narcissist gives narcissism a bad name, Ethan is a rock star whose celebrity is fading and it’s all he can do to make sure he manages to stay in the record label’s good graces. The very last thing he needs is Janie tagging along and making him play role modelâ€¦ or is it?
So starts the jumping through hoops and all the rigmarole that leads to important self-discovery. It’s as time-honored as noon tea, yet the script does little to change the tradition. The performances â€“ both acting and musical â€“ are the real reason to watch this film, and neither Breslin nor Nivola disappoint. Through their good periods and bad, it’s a little engaging to watch their personal and musical relationships develop. Surrounding the capable leads are an equally capable supporting cast full of recognizable faces and a genuine â€œhey, it’s that guy!â€ appearance. Frank Whaley proves yet again why we need to see more of him in movies â€“ his portrayal of frustrated drummer Chuck is one of his best, dividing his time between jaded annoyance and vitriol-spewing hatred. Geek favorite Joel Moore (Avatar, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story) pops his head in as an equally frustrated bassist, and playing the little-seen rhythm guitarist Billy is none other than Rodney Eastman, also known as Joey from parts 3 and 4 of the Nightmare on Elm Street series.
For all the good cast, though, this film lapses into a sort of trance where you don’t really care how the outcome is going to play out, mostly due to the fact that you know how it’s going to end. Stronger movies transcend that rut; however, writer/director David M. Rosenthal just doesn’t quite know how to make it different. Janie Jones is definitely worth a viewing, but not much more; Nivola’s performance as the aging rock star and Breslin’s forced-to-grow-up-quick Janie are the shining centerpieces in an otherwise dull movie.
Janie Jones opens today at the West End Cinema.
FINAL GRADE: B-
Reel Film News Movie Review by Eddie Pasa