Jack and Diane (**½)

There are some interesting ideas being thrown about in indie filmmaker Bradley Rust Gray’s existential horror film ‘Jack and Diane’, that’s for sure. Not all of them are effectively dealt with, but this romantic fright flick by way of the mumblecore genre certainly has some things on its mind and it’s hard not to appreciate the ambition on display here. Both a coming off age story and a very unusual take on werewolves as seen through the filter of emerging sexuality, Gray’s film has a few too many issues and lacks the strong central performance of his last flick ‘The Exploding Girl’, but it’s still a work to take notice of. He’s certainly got some good acting in the movie, mainly from co-leads Juno Temple and Riley Keough, but neither reach the levels that Zoe Kazan did in Gray’s prior feature. His effects work on a shoestring budget is to be admired, and while scares aren’t the primary thing on this movie’s mind, there are some effective jump moments to be found, and they never feel cheap either. This little flick opens at the beginning of next month and likely won’t find much of an audience, but those who do seek it out are in for something radically different. I can’t quite recommend it, but I’m hopeful that I won’t wind up being the only person who sees it.

The plot is pretty thin, but concerns the short-lived romance between young girls Jack (Keough) and Diane (Temple), while the latter is visiting New York City from England and staying with her Aunt Linda (Cara Seymour). Diane is wandering around city looking for a phone when she walks into a store that Jack works in. For Jack, it’s pretty much love, or at least lust, at first sight. They have a night of making out and bonding, but various issues will stand in the way of them being together. There’s the matter of each of their emotional fragility, but also there’s the little matter of lycanthropy. At first just affecting Diane by way of nosebleeds and hallucinogenic transformation, but soon enough Jack begins noticing similar things in herself. Are they kindred spirits in a much closer way than they originally realized? It’s almost as if David Cronenberg had applied to body horror skills to a lesbian romance story. The results are about as uneven as that makes it sound like, but that’s perhaps the nature of the beast here, no pun intended…

Both Juno Temple and Riley Keough are putting forward very interesting and unique performances in the film. In regards to Juno Temple, she always does noteworthy work and this is no exception. She’s a bit of a wide-eyed wanderer here, but it fits her character. Temple is supposed to be playing the “innocent” of the pair, despite her provocative clothing, and she’s more than up to the task. As for Riley Keough, she’s obviously the lesser known of the two, but she’s just as good here. Keough is the tougher character, but also the more sexually aggressive one, making for an interesting match. They have ample chemistry together, which is essential since the screenplay doesn’t always give them too much to work with. The supporting cast isn’t really used too much, and too little effect, but they include the aforementioned Cara Seymour, as well as the likes of Michael Chernus, Dane DeHaan, Leo Fitzpatrick, and Kylie Minogue. For me, the acting highlight is of course Temple and Keough, by far.

Bradley Rust Gray is a filmmaker with a distinctive style, and that’s something to be respected. In ‘The Exploding Girl’, I think his simple visual style and long takes were mostly effective, but here his similar direction is a bit more hit and miss. There are a few more flashes, notably animated werewolf related sequences by the Quay Brothers, but overall it does often feel like not enough is happening on-screen. Gray also paces the film in an incredibly deliberate way, so those expecting horror may be bored stiff early on. As for his screenplay, he’s certainly throwing a lot out there, mixing in werewolves, lesbianism, sexual awakening, STD’s, and more…but it’s only partially effective. The characters aren’t given much to do and the dialogue is stilted at times. The actresses have the chemistry to get over that hump somewhat, but the script overall feels more like a collection of ideas than something that was ready to shoot.

‘Jack and Diane’ will begin a limited release in November and certainly won’t be something to completely avoid at that time, it’s just a flawed character study. It’s a unique one, I’ll give it that, but Bradley Rust Gray can’t completely connect the dots, so you’re left wanting more. There’s effective acting and some genuinely surprising moments, but overall there’s this nagging feeling that something better should have been the final result. I didn’t dislike the movie, but I certainly was disappointed. Bradley Rust Gray is going to make a great film one day, but that day just isn’t here yet…

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!