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The Ballad of Jack and Rose
Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Camilla Belle, Catherine Keener, Paul Dano, Ryan McDonald, Jena Malone, Jason Lee, and Beau Bridges
Director/Scriptwriter: Rebecca Miller
Music: Michael Rohatyn
IFC Films
Running Time: one hour and fifty minutes
Rating: R

You are either a fan of director Rebecca Miller (Personal Velocity) or not. I found Personal Velocity a meandering film to follow with flat dialogue. Unfortunately,. The Ballad of Jack and Rose  follows the same pattern although this time, director Miller gets to work with her real-life husband, Daniel Day-Lewis (The Gangs of New York.) The story is centered on the relationship between a back-to-nature father, Jack (Day-Lewis), his home-schooled teenage daughter, Rose (Camilla Belle), and their life on a Canadian island. The little family exists in a time warp with electricity coming from a windmill and a developer (Beau Bridges) looked upon as something akin to the devil.

The film begins with this idyllic scene of Rose in her flower garden and Daniel climbing a tower to fix the windmill for their sporadic electricity. The audience soon picks up on the fact that this is a close---maybe too close---father/daughter relationship and that Daniel is ill. When he goes to town, but tells Rose he will be gone overnight, you see he has been dating a local woman (Catherine Keener). Impulsively, Daniel asks her with her two teenage sons, Paul Dano and Ryan McDonald, to come and live on the island. 

Rose is taken by surprise when this family moves in and her budding sexuality, which Paul would take advantage of and Ryan would sort of protect,  and Catherine's attempts to be a mother figure to everyone, but when guns and snakes come into the picture, just where this film is going is an open question.

It was the snake that finally got my patience. The story is set on Prince Edward Island and copperheads are supposed to be there for the catching. Trouble is, there are no poisonous snakes native to the island. There are several stories that present themselves for exploring, but the script forges ahead on Rose and her sexuality and Jack’s battle with a developer. What is dangled before the audience, but never developed, is how Jack and Catherine met, Jack’s illness, why he finds a Bohemian lifestyle attractive and what caused Jack to make an impulsive decision to combine two families under one roof.  An answer could be Jack’s statement, “I’ve made a mess of a lot of things and I don’t have time to pay for them now.” 

I needed a road map to follow this story. It is about Jack and Rose dealing with his illness, and then it becomes Jack’s argument with a developer, then turns into two families trying to live under the same roof, then becomes Rose’s search for sex, then violence and then every horror film about people alone on an island comes to mind, and so on and so on.  Paul Dano, as Catherine’s son, Thaddius, sums it up when he says, “…living here is like something from Blair Witch…”  

The Ballad of Jack and Rose reads like four movie scripts turned into one. The ending looks like it came from another film and the copperhead that must have wandered over from another movie set. Daniel Day-Lewis has a cadaver appearance, as befits an ill man with a thick Scot brogue. His accent is hard to follow and never fully explained, either. He does have a good scene later in the film with Beau Bridges. Camilla Belle’s depiction of Rose is of someone in a trance.  The audience can take just so many close-ups of non-expression. On the other hand, Catherine Keener brings much needed life to the story, along with Paul Dano and Ryan McDonald as her sons. Especially, McDonald who brings warmth to a character everyone ignores. Beau Bridges, as a developer, takes Jack’s vandalism rather lightly, though Bridges brings depth to his brief role. Jason Lee, as a delivery person, has good moments, but briefly, and then, sigh, we go back to snakes, windmills and teen angst.

Copyright 2005 Marie Asner<>
Submitted 4/14/05



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