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The Ballad of Jack and Rose

Too Close for Comfort

Jack (Daniel Day-Lewis) leads a fairy tale existence on an island commune with his 16-year old daughter, Rose. Jack has worked ardently to prevent his daughter from being exposed to the corrupting influences of the outside world. The two lead a harmonious existence comprised primarily of doing laundry, feeding chickens, and tending to the garden that sustains them. It is a seemingly idyllic existence; however, Jack and Rose have a relationship that is close…perhaps too close.

As is often the case with fairy tales, the outside world intrudes. In the case of The Ballad of Jack and Rose, change precipitates the intrusion of the outside world. Jack is sick (it's more than a bit ironic that Jack's sickness coincides with Sarah's nascent womanhood and curiosity about the outside world). So, Jack asks his lover Kathleen (Catherine Keener) to move in with him and Rose (Camilla Belle).

Director Rebecca Miller (Personal Velocity) powerfully foreshadows the turmoil that is about to ensue by rocking the island commune with a relentless storm that knocks down the treehouse Rose loves so much. This violent storm foreshadows the volatile response Rose has to the arrival of Kathleen and her two boys, Thaddius (Paul Dano) and Rodney (Ryan McDonald).

Seemingly overnight, Rose becomes a provocative, Lolita-esque sexpot propositioning the two boys to deflower her. Additionally, Rose attempts to kill Kathleen on more than one occasion. Clearly, this is motivated by animosity towards Kathleen supplanting her as Jack's companion, but this transformation is a little tough to swallow given the earlier characterization of Rose as a peaceful, innocent, naïve young girl; while the performance of Camilla Belle was excellent, what's challenging is fully accepting that her character would react the way she does.

While Jack is clearly upset by Rose's response and the resultant estrangement between the two, he seems slow to recognize why this is happening. This was also difficult to fathom given the closeness between the two established earlier in the film. Again, this seems to be attributable less to Daniel Day-Lewis' performance and more to the writing of the character. Lewis puts forth an excellent performance of a man whose ideals are too lofty for everyone, including himself, in the end.

Rebecca Miller has put together an intriguing fairy tale and it nearly works. The story is compelling, but the implausible transformation of Rose and Jack's slowness to recognize what is happening is not believable. While The Ballad of Jack and Rose is in many respects a fairy tale, Miller makes a mistake in tacking on a contrived, obligatory happy ending that nearly eradicates all positive feelings I have towards the film. We are left with a ballad that is vaguely harmonious, but could have been much better.


Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars