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World, watch out for Abigail Breslin. Thanks to nine years of work, we know she’s a talented actress, but Janie Jones really proves she’s on another level. The film not only reveals her as an incredibly talented singer, but as an actress who can take a subpar script, breathe life into it and make it somewhat enjoyable.
Breslin is Janie Jones, a 13-year-old with an addict for a mother (Elisabeth Shue). When mom decides to get clean, she opts to leave Janie with her father, semi-rock star Ethan Brand (Alessandro Nivola). Too bad Ethan doesn’t even know he has a kid. Despite being unconvinced he’s really the father, when Janie’s mother bails, Ethan is left with no choice but to bring Janie aboard his tour bus.
Janie isn’t troublesome in the least; it’s her father that causes all the problems. Not only does he stomp around unwilling to accept the fact that he has a child, but his drinking gets out of control as does his attitude. When his escapades become too much to handle, Ethan’s band and manager decide it’s time to part ways leaving Ethan and Janie alone.
While the story is sweet, it’s one we’ve heard many times before; the wise beyond her years child taking care of her immature dad, the young girl with the single mom going off to meet her reluctant daddy for the first time, the rock star parent with the equally talented kid. Generally, the premise works. Janie Jones slows at times, but overall is engaging enough to keep you entertained. However, this satisfaction hits only on the surface; it never penetrates and that’s because you can see just about everything coming from miles away.
None of the characters are original, therefore their behavior isn’t either. The second Janie busts out her guitar not only do we know she can sing just as well, if not better, than Ethan, but that her talent will come into play later in the game. What else does this not so subtly hint at? That Ethan will lose his bandmates. Sure enough, Ethan explodes and they take that as their cue to head home. We know where Janie Jones is going less than 15 minutes into the film.
The only time the film manages to crack the mold and really make an impression is during the few moments Breslin and Nivola really connect. Other than those two, most of the relationships in the film are quite contrived. Shue’s character is your quintessential druggie and she seems to be enjoying it, taking her performance to the max. As for Ethan’s bandmates, the only one that stands out is Frank Whaley as drummer Chuck as he controls one of the film’s most memorably amusing yet heart wrenching scenes. Peter Stormare also finds success as Ethan’s manager, Sloan. Not only is Sloan’s relationship with Ethan well established and honest, but so is his connection with Janie. It’s subtle yet weighty.
But what the film comes down to is the relationship between Ethan and Janie and while Nivola makes a good effort, this film wouldn’t stand a chance without Breslin. She’s just so undeniably natural, she could be rattling off any old uninspired dialogue, and she does at times in the film, and you still believe every word she says. Nivola is quite one-note through most of the piece, portraying Ethan as an angry drunk, but when he rises to Breslin’s level those are the moments that make the film worthwhile.
Director David M. Rosenthal would have nailed it had he had a tighter script. He has an eye and an ear for film, but a weakly paced story with far too many meaningless moments and tacky dialogue taint his vision and tunes. Then again, Rosenthal seems to know what he wanted, maintaining an appropriately washed out palette, guitar-strumming score and, unfortunately, a very deliberate pace. Had the film had more forward motion, audiences might be more willing to forgive the predictability of the story making Janie Jones a more entertaining experience.