“Love is a monster,” proclaims the poster – and in this case, the film means it literally. Or figuratively. Or something. You see, JACK & DIANE’s lesbian love story is intercut with darkly disturbing animation inserts by the Brothers Quay and a few scenes of bestial man-in-a-suit monster action. Unfortunately, these teasing glimpses of horror merely pose as manifestations of an inner psychological turmoil that is nowhere else evident on screen. They are too brief and too disconnected to enliven an uneventful story stretched out to an interminable 110-minute running time.
Jack & Diane is not quite what South Park was spoofing with the independent film festival that showed up in the “Chef’s Chocolate Salty Balls” episode: there are no gay cowboys eating pudding, but there is the same kind of pseudo-importance meant to make an artistic mountain out of a narrative molehill. What is interesting in this case – at least briefly – is that this particular mountain is eaten through with wormholes, filled with creepy-crawling things suggestive of sinister psychological forces that may erupt at any moment – but never do.
The romance between girlfriends Jack and Diane (yes, Jack is a girl) is marked by some of the most trivial dialogue ever recorded on film – which, to be charitable, is meant to convey two young people who are not articulate enough to convey their profound attachment for each other. In order to portray the depth of feeling that the characters cannot express, writer-director Bradly Rust Gray utilizes the Brothers Quay animation: as the camera slowly tilts down from Jack and Diane, a seamless cut transitions us to what looks like the interior of a human body, where long strands of female hair twist and twine around what could be bone and internal organs. The imagery is clearly metaphoric – a literal representation of the impact this new emotion is having on Diane.*
Sadly, this is all that the film has to say on the subject. We will periodically see this imagery throughout the running time, without ever learning anything new. Nor will we see any hint – in the narrative, the dialogue or Temple’s performance – justify the turmoil supposedly boiling beneath her placid surface expression. Consequently, the imagery (as marvelous as it is on its own) feels gratuitous, as if it were added in post-production in a desperate attempt to goose a film otherwise devoid of memorable developments.
Mostly, JACK & DIANE consists of the two characters floundering through their relationship, at length. The editing pace is deliberately slow: the camera lingers over every glance as if imparting some secret significance; the long pauses between lines are lovingly recorded as if their mere passage of time somehow conveys simmering passions that never ignite on screen.
Strangely, the metaphoric monster is revealed almost immediately, startling Diane (Juno Temple) in a public restroom and setting up expectations that are wildly out of touch with the film that follows. This “WTF?” moment is presented as a prologue to intrigue us, before the narrative slips back in time to show how Diane met her girlfriend Jack (Riley Keough). Eventually, the monster shows up again, attacking Jack in scene suggestive of sexual violence – which is ultimately revealed as Diane’s dream. The impact on the story is nil. Jack seems rather nonchalant upon hearing Diane say, “I dreamed I ate you.” After all, what’s a little cannibalism between lovers? Still, this is the most significant event in the entire relationship – you would think it would merit at least a “What the hell are you talking about?”
Ultimately, the horror element in JACK & DIANE is a ploy, apparently meant to convey a message: love reaches down inside your guts and changes you; the changes hurt; and they can even turn monstrous. You have to give Bradly Rust Gray credit for making himself clear; unfortunately, the message fits snugly into the two-minute trailer. There is nothing in the feature film that in anyway expands or develops the idea. Despite the gristle and bone, and the drooling creature, love as portrayed in JACK & DIANE is not a catalyst for monstrous transformation; it is an inert gas that wafts invisibly across the screen, failing to spark a chemical reaction.
JACK & DIANE (Magnolia Pictures, theatrical release November 2, 2012). Written and directed by Bradley Rust Gray. Cast: Juno Temple, Riley Keough, Kylie Minogue, Dane DeHaan, Leo Fitzpatrick, Haviland Morris, Cara Seymour.
- The effect is not too dissimilar from one that David Lynch pulled off in BLUE VELVET, tilting down into the grass to reveal swarming insects, suggestive of strange things lurking unseen beneath the surface. The difference is that Lynch knew he had made his point, and moved on. Gray continually reprises the move, without ever adding anything.
- Jack & Diane at Sundance Cinema 5 (hollywoodgothique.com)