Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Ballad of Jack & Rose

Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com 6/25/06 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

After the success of her 2002 independent masterpiece Personal Velocity, Rebecca Miller lived up to her talents as not just a director but as a writer as she is the daughter of the legendary playwright Arthur Miller. While taking a break with her real-life husband and actor Daniel Day-Lewis and their children, Miller was asked to help write the screenplay for the play Proof for director John Madden. That same time, Miller was working on a new original script which was then titled The Rose & the Snake about a reclusive father and his daughter whose isolated lifestyle changes as he finds himself dying and inviting a new girlfriend which changes their relationship. Miller then chose to re-title the film in tune with her own plot entitled The Ballad of Jack & Rose.

Written and directed by Miller, The Ballad of Jack & Rose is about a young woman's relative world of isolation is changed when she's exposed to the world outside of the island she lives with her father. With her own father dying and seeking companionship, the relationship of the father and daughter disintegrates as their own home is being threatened by progress. Starring Miller's husband Daniel Miller and young actress Camilla Belle in their respective title roles along with Catherine Keener, Paul Dano, Ryan McDonald, Susanna Thompson, Beau Bridges, Jason Lee, and Jena Malone. The Ballad of Jack & Rose is a poignant, coming-of-age story from Rebecca Miller.

Rose (Camilla Belle) is a 16-year old child who lives in an island with her hippie father Jack (Daniel Day-Lewis) as they live in complete isolation from the world. It's an ideal world for the young Rose and her father until they're faced by the destruction of nearby wetlands for a housing development project led by a contractor named Marty (Beau Bridges). The timing is worse as Jack is falling ill from heart disease as Rose couldn't bear a life without her father as Jack sails to the mainland to meet with his former girlfriend Kathleen (Catherine Keener). Kathleen agrees to move with him as she takes her two teenage sons in Thaddius (Paul Dano) and Rodney (Ryan McDonald) with her despite Rose's reluctance.

While Rose enjoys the company of Rodney, Thaddius wanders around to find adventure as Rose is uncomfortable about her father's relationship with Kathleen. After asking Rodney to cut her hair, she tries to deal with the new people at her home while a florist in Gray (Jason Lee) visits to tell Jack about what Marty is trying to do. When a friend of Rodney in Red Berry (Jena Malone) arrives to visit, Rose's interest with sex starts to increase as she saw Red and Thaddius making out. Later on, Rose asks Thaddius to sleep with her in order to get her father's attention for the changes that is happening. Jack learns what happen as he wants Thaddius out as Rose holds an old hippie party with Thaddius, Rodney, and Red that unravels with Jack's anger. Rose leaves as Jack is alone dealing with Kathleen as he realizes that his new experiment as failed. After finding Rose, Jack decides to meet with Marty where Jack would make a drastic decision that would ultimately change Rose's young life.

While the film isn't perfect due to some of the 1960s hippie ideology and how it clashes against 1980s capitalism. Rebecca Miller does create a compelling, emotional coming-of-age story about a young girl being introduced to a new world that is foreign to her while dealing with the decay of her own upbringing. While the story does seem somewhat inspired by her own relationship with her own father and playwright Arthur Miller, who died shortly after the film's premiere at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. It's also a story about a relationship between father and daughter that gets a little dangerous and nearly leans the world of incest in the way Rose cares for Jack. Particularly in the way Kathleen sees their relationship and how Rose reacts to her since Kathleen is afraid of Rose's fear of the world outside of her commune.

Miller’s structure really brings out a simple idea of revealing the life of Jack and Rose in the first act and the arrival of Kathleen and her sons in the second, and its aftermath in the third. Miller's work as a storyteller is also done very well as a director since she did nearly the entire film on location in Prince Edwards Island in Canada. Miller chooses to observe the development of not just the film's major characters but the surroundings they're in. While the film does lose some insight onto the political aspect of the film, it doesn't stray away from its main story as Miller succeeds in bringing a wonderful transcending, imaginative film.

Helping Miller in her vision is her longtime collaborator in cinematographer Ellen Kuras. Kuras' photography is filled with dreamy textures of exterior colors and interior settings filled with intimate lighting on some sequences. One scene in the party owes to the psychedelic world with images of 8mm film stock that shows the contrasting world of the 60s/70s and the 80s. Kuras' photography is truly a marvel as brings a wonderful visual scope to Miller's worldly setting. Production designer Mark Ricker does a wonderful job in creating the contrast of the intimate, worldly area of Jack and Rose in contrast to the world outside of their commune which is more mechanical and glossy. Costume designer Jennifer Von Mayrhauser also does great job in creating the clothing for the film, notably the working class style of Catherine Keener's Kathleen and the more carefree world of Camilla Belle's Rose.

Editor Sabine Hoffman does some wonderful cutting in giving the film a nice, leisurely pace while doing some fine cutting to convey the surroundings of the characters. Composer Michael Rohatyn brings a style of folk and piano style music for its score that also includes instrumental cuts of classical music and jazz guitar of Leo Kotte. Most of the film's soundtrack includes some great music with tracks from Bob Dylan, John Mayall, a lot of 60s and 70s music, and two variation of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' classic song I Put A Spell On You by Creedence Clearwater Revival and Nina Simone. Both of them are amazing to hear.

The film's casting is wonderfully inspiring since many of the actors are there to tell a story and play interesting characters. Susanna Thompson is good in her small role as Marty's wife Miriam who welcomes Jack and Rose in a crucial final scene. Noted indie actors Jason Lee and Jena Malone also create small, memorable performances in their respective role as the calm, sensitive Gray and the energetic, wild Red Berry. Ryan McDonald is excellent as the more sensitive, mature Rodney while Paul Dano brings more comedic angst to his role as the wandering Thaddius. Beau Bridges is great in a complex role as Marty, a man who might seem like a greedy businessman but is someone who can't help but be a part of progress as he plays his role in a very sensitive, restrained approach. The best supporting performance easily is Catherine Keener as Kathleen who adores Jack while understands Rose's reaction about her moving in. Keener brings a lot to the role as a woman who has a hard time raising her sons while dealing with the family problems of Jack and Rose as Keener gives a great performance.

Camilla Belle delivers a real breakthrough performance as Rose with her amazing beauty and range in the display of emotions. Belle brings a lot to the role of Rose as a young girl who doesn't understand much about the outside world while she develops from a young, idealized girl to a woman who is forced to realize that her father can't be here all the time. Belle also has great chemistry with the veteran Day-Lewis as the two are wonderful to watch. Daniel Day-Lewis is also great as Jack by giving a performance full of complexity in its physicality and range of emotions. Day-Lewis plays his role with such fraternal comfort that he is truly believable as a caring father who is filled with guilt and pain while trying to do what is right for Rose. It's a magnificent performance from an actor who has rarely given an adequate performance as he proves to be a great muse for his wife.

The Ballad of Jack & Rose is a phenomenal film from Rebecca Miller. With great work from her film crew, notably Ellen Kuras, and the cast, notably Daniel Day-Lewis, Camilla Belle, and Catherine Keener. Anyone into Miller's work will definitely enjoy this film despite a few flaws while anyone who loves Daniel Day-Lewis will see his brilliance as an actor. The film should also be noted for the talents of the young Camilla Belle who proves that she can act with an actor as brilliant as Daniel Day-Lewis. In the end, for a strong film about father/daughter relationship should check out The Ballad of Jack & Rose.

© thevoid99 2011

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