First loves are tough. Everyone has been in that situation where you get your earliest glimpse of passion, a passion so strong that it is rivaled only by the high potential for heartbreak. For better or worse, that first love haunts you. Enter, Bradley Rust Gray’s Jack and Diane.
Diane (Juno Temple) is visiting her Aunt in New York City, in an effort to become more independent from her twin sister. As Diane listlessly roams the city she meets Jack (Riley Keough, who looks eerily reminiscent of Kristen Stewart). Jack is drawn to Diane’s raw innocence while Diane is captivated by Jack’s sense of experience. After a voracious kiss in a nightclub, the pair begin to sneak around the city, fumbling their way through first love. When Jack discovers that Diane is set to leave in a week, her walls come up, potentially destroying the pair’s budding romance. Meanwhile, Diane’s sexual awakening causes her to have violent visions of becoming a werewolf.
For those who hear ‘werewolf’ and instantly imagine strong elements of horror or science fiction throughout the film, don’t. The addition of the werewolf to the story line is primarily there to be a metaphor of Diane’s new-found sexuality, though there are a few scenes where the visions become brutal in their use of blood and gore. In fact, for most of the film, the audience isn’t even sure which of the girls are having these visions. Instead, scenes with strong emotions are intercut with braided hair crawling through nondescript organs. Gross.
Jack and Diane would have been better served by embracing its narrative of a coming of age romance, the werewolf concept being neither here nor there in terms of impact. Yet, their romance is filled with soft-spoken adolescent awkwardness that is at times painful to watch. Gray, the writer and director, takes his quest for realism too far with his use of dialogue. The girls punctuate their sentences with ‘ums’ and ‘uhs’ far too often. Perhaps it is an accurate portrayal of how fifteen-year-olds talk, but I’d like to give modern teens more credit than that. The dialogue is overburdened with ellipses as well. Even within a single sentence the characters let silence stretch for too long until you want to shout at them to finish their thought.
Grey also favors the close-up, pulling the camera tight onto Jack or Diane’s faces for extended lengths of time. The abundant amount of close-ups combined with the ellipses ridden dialogue slowed Jack and Diane to a crawl. Any spark of curiosity as to how Jack and Diane’s relationship would fare was snuffed out by the time I finished the film.
Jack and Diane had the potential to connect with its audience through its love story. But what differentiates the film from dozens like it, the werewolf plot line, is ultimately Jack and Diane’s downfall.