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The Independent Critic

Alessandro Nivola, Abigail Breslin, Elisabeth Shue, Peter Stormare and Joel David Moore
David Rosenthal
Rated NR
107 Mins.
Tribeca Film

 "Janie Jones" Review 
An Official Selection of the 2011 Heartland Film Festival, Janie Jones has the curse of being released after Crazy Heart, a vastly superior film that led to Jeff Bridges finally receiving his long deserved Oscar award.

Janie Jones isn't a bad film, and co-leads Alessandro Nivola and Abigail Breslin redeem themselves quite nicely in the film and, in fact, even perform their own singing. I would even go so far as to say that the majority of folks who appreciated Crazy Heart will appreciate this film.

Nivola plays Ethan Brand, an on his way down rock musician who discovers he has a 13-year-old daughter named Janie Jones (Abigail Breslin) from a years ago tryst with a now drug-addicted woman (Elisabeth Shue) who shows up at one of Ethan's concert intending to drop off Janie while she runs off under the guise of getting clean and sober.

Sound cliche'd? It is.

Sound formulaic? It is.

But, in the hands of Nivola, a promising young actor who has never quite lived up to his potential, and the Academy Award-nominated Breslin, whose potential just keeps growing, Janie Jones is a far more involving and entertaining film than you might actually expect.

Unlike Bridges in Crazy Heart, Nivola's Ethan Brand is for the most part a complete a**hole and a good portion of the film's early scenes finds Ethan alienating his band members, fighting hecklers in the audience and avoiding anything resembling being a responsible parent. Eventually, but not surprisingly, the film pretty much pares itself down to being a two-person show in order to find a way for father and daughter to bond.

I'll give you one guess as to how exactly they bond.

Yep. Music.

As it turns out, Janie's quite the singer herself. We learn this, unfortunately, way too early in the film and any potential suspense is gone when every time Janie turns around she's grabbing her guitar and plucking away. Janie plucks when she's happy. Janie plucks when she's sad. Janie plucks when she's stressed. Janie plucks when she's lonely.

Janie plucks.

Nivola brings to mind the self-destructive rock star played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers in August Rush, never comprising on the depths of his destructive and self-destructive behaviors yet also making Ethan soulful enough that his turn towards bonding with his daughter is ultimately believable. Breslin is definitely making a successful transition to more mature roles, here embodying a still young girl who's growing up quickly and yet also a girl whose innocence and wonder still shine through. The two of them together are electrifying and, even more surprisingly, their singing is remarkably compatible (though a touch on the bland side).

Elisabeth Shue is terrific as the drug-addicted mother who still cares about her child, while Ethan's bandmates are all top notch and familiar faces including Brittany Snow (Hairspray), Frank Whaley (Pulp Fiction), Joel David Moore (Avatar) and the delightful Peter Stormare (Fargo).

The music in Janie Jones is for the most part fairly low-key, yet both Nivola and Breslin prove themselves to be somewhat surprisingly gifted in the musical department. The tunes in the film are written specifically for each performer, Breslin's written by Gemma Hayes and Nivola's by Eef Barzelay of the band Clem Snide. While they're perfectly fine within the framework of the film, there's nothing here that you'll find yourself humming along to as you leave the theatre.

With its themes of family, recovery and healing, Janie Jones is a solid if modestly underwhelming selection from the 2011 Heartland Film Festival. Those who love it are likely to really love it, while most folks will likely be like me and think to themselves as they leave the theatre "Who knew that Abigail Breslin could really sing?"

Janie Jones is screening on Monday, October 17th at 9pm at AMC Showplace 17 and on Friday, October 21st at 2:30 pm at AMC Castleton during the 2011 Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic