Review: JACK OF THE RED HEARTS Means Well, But Falls Flat
It's not easy to make a film about a particular issue prevelant in society - be it an illness, a social problem, a political situation - and make it dramatically interesting. This is especially true if the issue is one that has been around long enough for there to be a certain number of texts about it. In such cases, if there is nothing new to be said, or if the film isn't done in a new and interesting way, it can end up predictable and clichéd.
Sadly, such is the case with Janet Grillo's Jack of the Red Hearts. While well-intentioned, with a very good performance by Taylor Richardson, it seems more fitted to be a TV movie-of-the-week as opposed to a theatrical release, and has little new to offer in story.
Jack (AnnaSophia Robb), a juvenile delinquent, wants to get legal custody of her sister so they can live together. In order to get money, she cons her way into a job as a caregiver for Glory (Richardson), an 11-year-old with autism. While Jack at first is frustrated, she slowly begins to bond with Glory and her mother Kay (Famke Janssen), and Jack tries to help Glory communicate and grow.
The film's story falls quickly into a (as stated) predictable pattern: we see Jack as a young juvie, in what most adults consider the clothing of the rebel (heavy eye make-up, flannel shirt, black combat boots) committing petty crimes. She has a sassy best friend who tries to steer her right, because Jack is good person at heart as she just wants to look after her sister. Kay is a combination of nagging wife and caring mother, just trying to do the right thing but still apparently unaware of the toll her allegedly selfish behaviour takes on her husband and son.
Even Glory's behaviour is taken straight out of The Miracle Worker, and while the story does reference this earlier work directly, it still is a lazy tool, instead of looking for a more original angle. Jack's heart softens towards Glory, and somehow only she, the young criminal, can understand Glory's predilictions and see her true potential. These beats of the unfolding story have been seen too many times before that any power they might have is lost.
The actors give as much as they can, but with little substance and badly written dialogue, it's not easy, and again, the 'development' of their characters runs such as well-worn track that several scenes could have been cut and it would have made little difference to the story. I have no doubt that Grillo and screenwriter Jennifer Deaton wanted to express the challenges of both having autism and working with/loving someone with autism, but as happens too often with issue films, the desire to articulate the issue overwhelms any potential interesting narrative.
Jack of the Red Hearts seems to be aimed at a general, non-film audience, people who might have little or no knowledge of autism and as such necesitate a simpler narrative with few emotional or intellectual challenges. Not that this wouldn't have an effect on its intended audience per se; as a means to talk about autism and how challenging it can be, and how love can transform, it might be fine. As narrative, it's a story that's been told too many times, and in far better ways.
Jack of the Red Hearts will be released on February 26th in select AMC theatres in the US.
Jack of the Red Hearts
- Janet Grillo
- Jennifer Deaton
- Jennifer Deaton
- AnnaSophia Robb
- Israel Broussard
- Sophia Anne Caruso
- Scott Cohen