Pop culture essays, criticism, fistfights

Tribeca 2011: Janie Jones

For the next month, Jeremiah and Jeff will be spending almost all of their free time watching and reviewing movies from this year's Tribeca Film Festival. It's about to get indie up in here!

I hope he's playing Runaway Train.

Right from its opening contrivances, Janie Jones is a movie dead set on forcing the eponymous young lady and her estranged sort-of-was rock star father into a familial relationship. From the time a police officer seems to way overstep his authority by threatening to detain the father, Ethan Brand, until a judge sorts out if he really is the girl's father (is that legal?), it’s obvious these two are simply destined to grow closer.

There are some enjoyable, if sappy and predictable, moments as Janie proves to her father that she is a capable touring companion on and off the stage. Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) is effective as the capable beyond her years youngster, while Alessandro Nivola (Pollux Troy) manages the right mixture of self involved dickishness and casual sensitivity to make his reluctance towards a relationship, and Janie's enthusiasm, work for most of the movie. It is still at times hard to figure why Janie clings to Ethan so desperately, except that this is the kind of movie Janie Jones is.

With such great focus on the central relationship, the rest of a potentially interesting world is ignored. Janie Jones starts off with an interesting band dynamic; Ethan is joined on the road by his exasperated manager (Slippery Pete from Seinfeld), a younger guitarist who we're told played for some young pop star (was it Ashlee Simpson?), the beautiful keyboardist Ethan's currently dating, and two loyal, seemingly longtime bandmates (Joel Moore and Frank Whaley). Everybody seems to be in the band for different reasons. It’s a realistic portrayal of an act in decline, and Moore and Whaley bring a lot of humor to their roles. Unfortunately, Janie Jones sends them all packing, with the help of an absurd onstage scuffle, because they detract too much from the father-daughter reunion.

It's never really clear what kind of music Ethan plays (his drunken screaming fits are incongruous with the low key acoustic folk he plays once his band is gone) or what level of success he previously enjoyed. These sorts of details aren’t really necessary, but it might be easier to excuse some of his immature and impulsive behavior if we had a better idea of who he was before Janie showed up. As it stands, he’s basically just a stereotypical musician.

Janie Jones announces exactly what kind of a movie it is early on, and never wavers. Writer/director David M. Rosenthal tells his story without flair or surprises, but it is periodically very entertaining. It's never as melodramatic as it might have been, but it's also never as interesting. Those who are looking for an upgrade from their usual diet of Lifetime movies should seek it out, the rest of us needn't bother.

VERDICT: Skip it.

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