On an island farm lush with the flowers planted by his sixteen year old daughter Rose (Camilla Belle, "The Invisible Circus"), Jack (Daniel Day-Lewis, "Gangs of New York") holds onto the idealistic lifestyle of the commune that only he and Rose now inhabit. A heart condition forces him to look to the outside world for someone to care for his daughter when he's gone, but when Jack brings his mainland lover Kathleen (Catherine Keener, "S1mone") to live with them, Rose's untapped sexuality is unleashed by jealousy. Kathleen's two teenaged sons, the sweet-natured Rodney (Ryan McDonald) and predatory Thadius (Paul Dano, "L.I.E.") add the temptation in Rose's Edenic world in writer/director Rebecca Miller's ("Personal Velocity") "The Ballad of Jack and Rose."
Miller's last win at Sundance presumably gains her automatic entrance to the 2005 edition while her marriage to star Day-Lewis gains her one of cinema's greatest, yet most reluctant, actors. A fine cast gives their director beautifully shaded performances, but the writer squanders them on a pretentiously meaningless story packed with religious and mythical symbolism and a creepy incestuous central theme.
'I'm glad I got to know you for such a long time,' Jack dreamily tells his daughter, who reacts violently to his verbalized mortality, taking to the fields like a wild child. A storm comes in, bringing Rose's tree house sanctuary to the ground, cockeyed, foreshadowing events around the corner. Jack visits the mainland and offers Kathleen 'early retirement' in the form of a check should she agree to come live with him, then goes home and tells Rose that people are coming to visit. 'It's an experiment, a new chapter,' he tells the upset girl. Those words will come back to haunt him.
Miller puts Rose through some radical paces. She teams with Thadius to capture an arrowhead snake, which is later unleashed within the house. She tries to seduce Rodney, who instead convinces her to let him cut her hair. She fires a gun in Jack's bedroom when she finds him with Kathleen. She leaves a bloody message where she knows Jack will find it, driving him to buy Kathleen out the same way he brought her in. Then she gets too close for comfort to dad before taking off and squatting in the modern development across the island being built by Jack's nemesis Marty Rance (Beau Bridges, "The Fabulous Baker Boys"). The effect of all this histrionic drama is, frankly, numbing, even though several of the actors engage. Miller's writing is truer when she addresses Kathleen's trying to identify her place in this household than it is with her leading lady.
Daniel Day-Lewis, his Irish intact and made Bohemian with hand rolled cigs and trendy adornments, paints a quiet portrait of a man accepting of his fate who is riled into anguish by his daughter's sexual outbursts then accepts a different fate, one against his nature. Camilla Belle has the face of an earth-mother-to-be, projecting a feminine mystery which the camera loves. Keener gives a simply effective performance as a blue collar woman one part romantic and two parts practical. Newcomer McDonald is tremendously appealing while Dano nails an teenager on the make, as snaky as the reptile he's associated with. Bridges is cast right as the evil developer who turns out to be not such a bad guy, as is Jason Lee as a family friend who provides the bridge to Rose's coda, but Jena Malone ("Saved!") is saddled with a murkily defined character who seems completely extraneous.
Cinematography by Ellen Kuras ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "Personal Velocity") provides a nice organic feel for the environmentally friendly protagonists, but the location is oddly chosen, Northeastern Canada feeling like the Carolina coast when it is supposed to be Northwestern United States.
"The Ballad of Jack and Rose" has some beautiful notes, but the singer too frequently goes off key. If there was a point to all this, it was lost on me.
Robin did not see this film.
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