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1 item from 2005

The Ballad of Jack and Rose

21 January 2005 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

PARK CITY -- Rebecca Miller's critique of the "tune in, turn on, drop out" generation of the '60s and early '70s is scathing enough in The Ballad of Jack & Rose. But her insights into people are as pat as they are unconvincing. The writer-director's strategy is to isolate her characters so most influences are psychological rather than societal. Then she watches them disintegrate. Yet the schematic design behind her plot and characters is so rigidly predetermined that nothing feels lifelike despite the naturalistic acting and filmmaking.

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Catherine Keener, this Ballad should entice art house audiences, but boxoffice will be modest. The film opens March 25.

The story takes place in 1986, when most of the counterculture communes have petered out. Jack Slavin (Day-Lewis) is the last Utopian, a hard-headed man privileged by an inheritance to continue living in the remains of a commune he helped create on an island off the East Coast. His only companion is his 16-year-old daughter Rose (Camilla Belle), whom he painstakingly shelters from the influences of the outside world.

Even he realizes though that these indolent days of idealism and innocence are nearing their end. Rose is entering womanhood, whether he likes it or not. Plus, he suffers from a fatal heart disease that could take his life at any moment. Furthermore, a developer (Beau Bridges) has invaded his island sanctuary to build a tasteless housing tract near Jack's property.

So Jack makes a foolish decision that triggers the story's conflict: He invites his sometimes lover Kathleen (Keener) to move into his earth-covered house along with her two teenage sons, Rodney (Ryan McDonald) and Thaddius (Paul Dano), who don't much like each other. Predictably, the boys hate the isolation, Rose feels threatened by having to share her father's affection with another woman and the two parents lose control over their increasingly wild offspring.

To pay back dad for this "experiment" in living, Rose offers her virginity first to Rodney, who out of sensitivity or other sexual preferences declines, then to Thaddius, who is wired for fornicate without discretion. When Rodney's free-spirited pal Red Berry (Jena Malone) drops by, a flashback to the flower-child era if ever there were one, the experimentation grows wilder.

Jack inexplicably tolerates Rose firing a shotgun in the general direction of Kathleen -- he actually laughs it off. Even her bringing a copperhead snake into the house to scare his girlfriend doesn't faze him. But then he's a guy with heart disease who chain smokes, so we're not talking about a responsible adult.

Indeed the real point here, for all the surface melodrama, seems to be that Jack is willing to create chaos to distract himself from the knowledge he has fallen in love with his own daughter. And that this superannuated hippie is really no better than the land-raping developer -- each does what he pleases without considering the consequences of his actions.

Ultimately, the coming-of-age story eclipses the depiction of a man's failed legacy. So strong is the performance from young Camilla Belle -- touching, sincere, gutsy -- that this ballad belongs to Rose. She is her father's daughter, both strong- and narrow-minded, willful and determined. The major difference is she is still innocent

Day-Lewis and Keener essentially play parents cursed with unacknowledged guilt, as each is careless with his or her emotional life. So the youngsters rebel: Rodney overeats, Thaddius grows remote and self-absorbed and Rose creates a life of her own.

The production work on Canada's ruggedly beautiful Prince Edward Island is terrific, especially designer Mark Ricker's tumble-down communal home in its state of arrested development and Ellen Kuras' intense, crystal-clear cinematography.


IFC Films

IFC Prods./Initial Entertainment/Elevation Pictures


Screenwriter/director: Rebecca Miller

Producer: Lemore Syvan

Executive producers: Jonathan Sehring, Caroline Kaplan, Graham King

Director of photography: Ellen Kuras

Production designer: Mark Ricker

Music: Michael Rohatyn

Co-producer: Melissa Marr

Costumes: Jennifer von Mayrhauser

Editor: Sabine Hoffman


Jack: Daniel Day-Lewis

Rose: Camilla Belle

Kathleen: Catherine Keener

Thaddius: Paul Dano

Rodney: Ryan McDonald

Red Berry: Jena Malone

Marty: Beau Bridges

Gray: Jason Lee

MPAA rating: R

Running time -- 111 minutes »

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