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The Ballad of Jack and Rose Review

By Shawn McKenzie 04/01/2005

Daniel Day-Lewis hasn’t always been one of my favorite actors.  Ever since his Oscar win for 1989’s My Left Foot, I’ve found him boring.  The only exception is 2002’s Gangs of New York, where he stole the show as Bill the Butcher.  His latest movie, The Ballad of Jack and Rose, returns him to his boring roots, and despite an unusual incestuous plot element, the movie was just okay.

Jack Slavin (Day-Lewis) is a hippie living on a commune on an island called Marsh Island off the coast of the United States.  He had come to the island from Scotland in 1972, and he made his living as an environmental engineer.  Now it is 1986, and he lives alone in the commune with his 16-year-old daughter Rose (Camilla Belle.)  Jack is rich, because a relative left him a lot of money when he died, so he has since retired and just works on his solar and wind powered house.  Everyone had left the commune years ago, so Jack and Rose became a little isolated.  The only thing that they seem to like to do is make trouble for land developers, like local developer Marty Rance (Beau Bridges), who is building a housing tract on the edge of Jack’s property.  Ever since Rose was young (Anna Mae Clinton, Rose as a young girl), it has been the two of them only, but when their isolation starts to get a little too close for comfort, Jack goes into town and persuades his on-again, off-again girlfriend Kathleen (Catherine Keener) to move in with him to be a female role model for Rose.  She only agrees to move in with him as long as she can bring her two sons, Rodney (Ryan McDonald) and Thaddius (Paul Dano), with her (both of them have different fathers.)  Rodney is a little overweight, and he wants to style women’s hair.  Thaddius is a stereotypical longhaired punk who just wants to get lucky with women and start trouble.  Rose is jealous of Kathleen and mad at Jack for bringing someone between them, so she starts acting out in various, self-destructive ways.  She first tries to seduce Rodney (who ends up just cutting her hair), and then she fires a gun into Jack and Kathleen’s bedroom.  Later, she tries to get Jack’s friend and gardener Gray (Jason Lee) to kiss her, but he doesn’t take the bait.  Finally, she brings one of Thaddius’s snakes into the house and puts it under her bed while allowing Thaddius to do what Rodney wouldn’t do to her.  She became inspired to pick Thaddius when she watched him and Rodney’s friend Red Berry (Jena Malone) fooling around in his truck.  When the acts of defiance get too much for him, he considers driving over to Marty and his wife Miriam’s (Susanna Thompson) house to sell his property to the developer.  Oh…did I mention that he has a heart condition and he could die at any minute?  He just wants Rose to live a full, normal life after he is gone, and getting too cozy with dear old dad is not the way he wants her to grow up.

Writer/director Rebecca Miller (the real wife of Day-Lewis) has created an interesting story with most characters that go nowhere.  Jack and Rose is the real story, and it seems like the other characters are just there for convenience.  Bridges is in there to explain Jack’s environmental issues, but otherwise, he doesn’t do much.  Kathleen, Rodney, and Thaddius are important, but their characters aren’t fleshed out enough.  The movie never explains why Rodney is a hairdresser (is he gay, or is he more like Warren Beatty’s character in Shampoo?)  Thaddius is just a generic bad boy, and it doesn’t explain how the two half-brothers became so different.  Poor Malone and Lee don’t do much at all, except give Rose an excuse for some of her rebellion.  The acting is fairly good overall, but I wish that some of the supporting characters had more stuff to do.

The Ballad of Jack and Rose isn’t a bad movie…just not the most interesting one.  With a predictable ending that couldn’t have ended in any other way than in the way that it ended, it wasn’t a movie that I’d pay full price to see.  I’d most likely check it out on the premium channels once they premiered there.  This ballad isn’t one that I’ll be singing for too many people.


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