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John & Jane (2005)

7.0
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Ratings: 7.0/10 from 104 users  
Reviews: 9 user | 13 critic

A entirely original blend of observational documentary and tropical science-fiction, JOHN & JANE follows the stories of six "call agents" thatanswer American 1-800 numbers in a Mumbai call center.

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A entirely original blend of observational documentary and tropical science-fiction, JOHN & JANE follows the stories of six "call agents" thatanswer American 1-800 numbers in a Mumbai call center.

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14 September 2005 (Canada)  »

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Good material, run-of-the-mill execution.
27 October 2005 | by (Canada) – See all my reviews

'John & Jane' is a documentary about the outsourcing of telephone soliciting jobs to India, which has a large pool of underemployed young people who speak good English. Now it's not exactly big news in North America that telephone soliciting is a hateful job -- a traditional bottom-of-the-barrel for students needing extra money and those without marketable skills or work-history. Given this, the director of 'John & Jane' needs to make some further point, uniquely relevant to his culture, and I think he fails to do this.

There is a good case to be made for the opinion that phone-soliciting is innately useless, and long sequences of perky young Indian girls pestering lonely old Texans with cheap long-distance phone plans might have made it. There is a case to be made for the soul-desiccating quality of the work, or for the inherent dishonesty of the companies who employ these young people, for the huge gap between the aspirations they arouse and the rewards they grant. There are good points to be made with the materials in this movie, and the director probably thought of them all, but frankly, he didn't make any of them with any conviction.

The reason for this is, I think, mostly artistic, though perhaps diffuse and contradictory attitudes are behind the artistic failure. If the director had had a coherent point-of-view or a strong opinion, he might have edited the sequences of his various characters to some effect. As it is, they come in random order, and build toward no climax or point. Why would you put the sequence featuring the most rebellious, anarchic, foul-mouthed and colourful characters first? Why does the sequence with the self-deluded would-be billionaire come where it does? Why is the hopeful and naive religious girl placed where she is? The sequences -- the word is a misnomer -- have no sequence, no direction, and hence the points that might have been made are lost.

Timing is also a problem, and this too is a problem of editing the material. The individual sequences go on too long. Tightly edited, this documentary would not remotely approach feature-film length. It could be edited to the forty-or-so minutes of a TV hour, and be very much better, artistically, for the cuts.

It is possible that we saw a work-in-progress at Toronto Film Festival. I hope so, but I don't see this as a feature documentary, but as a TV hour, and a worthy one, if properly edited.


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