Josie and Jack is an adaptation that never goes as deep as it should become interesting, we are left with a blunt film that rarely gives its characters nor its audience something to attach themselves to.
The two teens are isolated in a decrepit mansion in rural Pennsylvania, with only each other to depend on, but, following an argument with their father, the two flee and try to make a life for themselves in New York. However, with Jack’s behaviour becoming increasingly temperamental, Josie must decide between her brother’s loyalty and breaking free.
Despite as hard as Josie may deny it, Jack is their father; without truly realising it, Professor Raeburn’s abuse has inflicted on his children has seeded its way into Jack. Causing another cycle to begin. This film is as much a tragedy abuse can be a generational trait if not stamped out early after all. Josie and Jack try to play off on the two’s incestuous flirtations, but it never rings true. Josie clings to those that show her empathy in any form, and Jack and her father never do so. While Jack thinks he is doing what he has to survive and can’t see what he is becoming. This relationship has many legs, yet the movie never gives these two characters that time to grow.
Josie and Jack never feel like it progresses with the story considering the film’s length; this is almost criminal. We see clearly that Jack is like his father from the start, and as Josie basically follows whoever is around her at that time, we know that Josie and Jack’s destiny is going to be a bleak one. By not forwarding on with something else and seemingly thinking that upping the ante on their new dwelling and “friends”, we are made to believe that the story has evolved; it hasn’t; it merely becomes a more violent version of the previous act.
Throughout, we see that Josie is neither her father nor her brother, and we yearn for her to release herself from her brother’s chains, especially when he proves all people their father right. But the emotional abuse has gone on for so long and is so welded into her that she doesn’t think she can. By not making more of its story, the film becomes lifeless; there is no soul to the film no matter how hard our actors try to pry something from the material.
This infuriates us as we are meant to feel towards Josie, and at times we do when things get particularly rough for her. Still, she isn’t given enough to do other than to stand on the side-lines and watch the men in her life take advantage and then promptly ruin themselves by their mistakes. By not giving us more of Josie (who is constantly reading Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Bluebeard), we think that maybe she will change by the end of the film and that she will grow and instead of like Kafka’s Gregor, she would change for the better. Josie and Jack never get there when it has ample opportunity to do so.
There are shining lights throughout the film, though; Annabelle Dexter-Jones as Upper-class New Yorker Lily particularly shines in her small role. Her performance causes you to wish they spent longer with her and this world as we see her carefree nature change when she sees marks on Josie. She is one of the few fully-formed characters, and the life she brings to the piece helps it massively.
Olivia DeJonge and Alex Neustaedter, as mentioned, do well in their roles. Still, they also fall short of having much if any chemistry together, which hinders the audience’s feeling. Their emotional connection never fully rings true throughout the film, and this hinders it greatly. As separate performances, they are solid to great, but together they falter. William Fichtner is good here, but not as great as he could be as all we ever see is an angry drunken man who likes to go off on monologues about how society is a shambles. We needed to learn more about him to fully understand why he is the way he is; the film gives us the chances to but doesn’t pull the trigger in giving us what we need.
Director of photography Mike Simpson gives us some impressive cinematography, highlighted in Josie and Jacks rundown studio apartment scenes that at night only has the neon lights from outside to showcase our actor’s features. It is moments like that that help you easily fall for what is on the screen, and Lancaster does well in the director’s chair, but there is a lack of confidence in taking hold of her movie and presenting her own vision as she plays it rather safe on occasion.
The production design, however, deserves special mention. Alan Lampert’s team have done wonders here and with Elise H. Clark-Johnson (Art Direction) and Kristina Porter (Set Decoration). They have the Raeburn mansion feel lived in with the differences from the start to its rundown (well 1990) present pulling you into this world. We see the mess of their fathers’ office, how scatterbrain he is, and by proxy is causing his children to be. By the time we reach Lily’s home, it feels like a new world, clean and modern a dream. Wonderful work has gone on here to give the film as much of a visual chance as possible. It is such a shame it was squandered.
Sarah Lancaster’s debut has promising glimpses of a bright future as a director. yet her film struggles with a misfiring script that doesn’t delve into its characters enough, unfortunately leaving its audience cold early on.
Josie and Jack is available now on digital formats.
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