A lesbian love story starring two talented young actresses, where one of them is also turning into a werewolf. Jack & Diane* sounds like a daring, ambitious film, right? I had high hopes for it, and yet I found myself walking out of the Tribeca Film Festival screening yesterday disappointed and frustrated with a movie I just couldn’t grasp. I found it ponderous and uneven, with only one or two moments of true emotional honesty, too little development on the werewolf subplot, and an underutilized Kylie Minogue cameo.
Set in a New York that’s probably modern-day but made to look like it could be anytime in the past twenty years, Jack & Diane tracks the week during which British teenage hot mess Diane (Juno Temple) and butch, fierce Jack (Riley Keough) experience the electrifying flash of first love and self-discovery. As they go clubbing and kiss furiously in darkened alleyways, these exciting new feelings inspire some sort of transformation within Diane that has her occasionally and briefly transforming into a slavering werewolf. (I read the movie as it being unclear which of them was turning into the werewolf, but all the reviews point out that it’s a metaphor for timid Diane’s sexual energy.)
The critical consensus seems to be that the movie was a letdown, especially after it could be saying so much about young love, queer love, New York City, the overdone werewolf trope, etc. Though it has a 74% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the film mostly inspired confusion in critics. I’d agree with Twitch that it’s difficult to really see the chemistry between Juno and Riley except for fleeting moments where Jack reveals little personal secrets. Also, I hated Diane.
Is this how Juno Temple acts in all her films? Because if so, I don’t think I could stand watching them. Her Diane is insufferable, a mopheaded 20-year-old (I think) who dresses and talks like an eight-year-old. I literally felt like I was watching a sexualized child who couldn’t wipe her ass without being told to. I imagine that we were supposed to view Diane as adrift and victimized — especially when we learn about the trouble that her twin sister Karen has gotten into — but I couldn’t see how Jack was so drawn to her.
The werewolf sequences are hard to grasp, as well. The Brothers Quay bring their stop-motion prowess to grisly interludes where we witness a rope of braided hair — matching the braids in Diane’s unwashed mop — twining around blood cells, presumably illustrating the werewolf DNA merging with Diane’s charged hormones, or something. But those sequences are so detached from the main action, and the werewolf subplot is never really explained, so it almost felt like two different movies.
There’s simply not enough time or attention given to convincing us that these two teenagers truly care about one another, so when we delve into the movie’s stakes — Diane has to go back to England, but not before she maybe devours Jack’s heart? — they’re not compelling enough to make our hearts ache in sympathy remembering our first teenage love. Maybe I just didn’t get it; perhaps there were complex metaphors that I completely failed to grasp. But judging from the general apathy of the reviewers in regards to these apathetic characters, I think the movie has fallen short of the ambitious story it presented.
What AfterEllen points out is that filmmaker Bradley Rust Gray does do a fabulous job of establishing mood, from the raw scenes of confession to my favorite sequence near the end, when Jack and Diane get locked into a storage locker without any lights and Diane uses her automatic camera to see in the dark. The click-and-whirr of the device plus the strobe-light-like flashes briefly pinpointing each of the women is a device that should be used in horror movies and had me enraptured, if only for a minute.
* And no, there doesn’t seem to be any relation to the John Mellencamp song. Thank God.
Photo: Bloody Disgusting