Jack and Diane is your typical butch/femme lesbian romance movie, revamped with a twist of alternative horror. Set in Manhattan, the film is told through the poetic narrative direction of the experienced Bradley Rust Gray, and is the story of the relationship between two young teens, the film’s namesakes – Jack (Riley Keough) and Diane (Juno Temple), as their feelings for each other threaten to overwhelm them.
The film starts abruptly with its only use of a non-linear narrative, with an opening sequence taken from further into the plot, giving the audience a taste and scare of what to expect, leaving feelings of confusion in its wake – a response to be expected throughout.
The narrative then returns to a more understandable beginning in order to tell the complete story – the meeting of Jack and Diane. The two meet each other when Diane, a visiting English girl, loses her way and seeks assistance at the store in which Jack works. The two proceed to spend their first night together clubbing (and indeed, making out) with each other, before embarking on a rocky relationship. Jack presently discovers that Diane is soon due to depart for school, upon this realisation their fragile bonds become strengthened with desperation and the two fall into an urgent romance.
However the romance and passion between the girls is continuously interrupted by grotesque scenes of stop motion brought to life by the Quay brothers, featuring twisted clumps of living hair making its way through the internal organs of Jack and Diane in a manner that can only be described as disturbing, and definitely not for the squeamish. These feelings of disturbed revulsion are only furthered by the audience’s disorientation as to what on earth the stop motion sequences are meant to represent. Extending this confusion is the quite frankly bizarre and disgusting hair-come-organ monster that suddenly begins to appear at apparent irregular and irrelevant intervals.
As it turns out, these horror elements are used in an attempt to convey Gray’s metaphor as to what true love feels like and how it can make monsters of us all. Unaware, both Jack and Diane respectively seem to make transformations into this fiend at differing intervals, with one particular scene featuring Diane’s reincarnation of the beast devouring Jack’s heart. What makes this even more bewildering is that the monster is present only in un-emphasised unconscious states – the consuming of Jack’s heart occurs in a dream, unclear at the time and resulting only in further appalled confusion.
It’s a shame that the complexity of Grey’s poetic narrative creates messages that are so deeply masked by metaphor and implication that they escape explanation and understanding, thus losing any meaning they had initially sought to convey.
It’s certainly nice to watch a film that doesn’t focus solely on a typical coming out or acceptance narrative, but as for what its focus was – the troubled love between two young girls, the film’s heavy reliance on its cryptic metaphorical messages meant it came across without as seemingly without direction at all.
Jack and Diane spend so much of their time sneaking sidelong glances and staring at each other that it’s questionable as to how strong their attraction actually is, as it gets lost in bland silent space. The sometimes deep and intense dialogue is also questionable in its attempts at profundity, as it comes across as uncomfortably phony.
And so despite an adequate display of acting from the cast – including a refreshing cameo from Kylie Minogue, the potential meaning of this film is lost in its vacant stares and ambiguous messages as well as its distorted combination of genres.
Nonetheless it’s recommendable to those who want in on a romantic tale filled with gore and unpleasant (albeit unexplained) surprises.