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Like many a familiar tune, Janie Jones feels like a safe, sweet rendition of a song we’ve known before. But, a good cast goes a long way and thanks a winning duo— Alessandro Nivola and Abigail Breslin— this film avoid stalness. It probably won’t find its way to a very large audience or even get decent distribution, because humble efforts like this usually don’t, unless really big names are attached to them. Janie Jones will also likely be more endearing and satisfying than the family dramas that will become well known.
Ethan Brand (Alessandro Nivola) is experiencing a modest musical revival with his band and indulging in his rockstar lifestyle, when a long-forgotten woman from his past (Elisabeth Shue) pays him a visit and announces that her 13-year-old daughter is also his. Ethan dismisses the woman and her claim, but young Janie is abandoned by her unstable, disheveled mother and local authorities suggest the girl join the band on the road.
Janie’s presence doesn’t impede on Ethan’s self-destructive ways. Before he knows it he has lost everyone, except for the bright and musically-inclined teenage girl he didn’t want anything to do with.
A full and delightful supporting cast that includes Peter Stormare, Brittany Snow, Frances Fisher and Frank Whaley, is used really well throughout the film, filling in just the right amount of spaces. Janie Jones doesn’t do too much explaining, doesn’t overdue it with context. Director David M. Rosenthal (See This Movie) trusts that the slow, quiet development of Ethan and Janie’s relationship will carry the film, and for the most part, it does.
Underrated and often overlooked Alessandro Nivola (Best Laid Plans, Junebug) gives another balanced and believable performance as Ethan. He highlights all the right cliches to bring out the rockstar jerk in Ethan and then opens it up enough to create a feeling, likeable guy slightly changed by his own downfall and his relationship with Janie. Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine, Zombieland) is quick with the switch, able to go from toughness and charm to sensitivity and tears seamlessly. The two together create pretty special moments, although some of them come close enough to excess melodrama. The two actors actually play and sing in the film, and scenes where they jam out together are not just cute, but kind of fun to watch.
The film does a good job of not letting the characters talk themselves to death or not telling us too much. There are lots of quiet moments between Ethan and Janie that are effective in drawing us in to their growing bond— no evidence or commentary necessary. Janies Jones sways us just a little bit, but it may not have with a different cast. Nivola and Breslin give some tender redemption to a feeble script and a story that’s been done so many times before.
Sanela Djokovic is a writer living in the Bronx
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