Sometimes you wonder what happens to festival films after the festival. A few of the big ones stay front and center building through the festivals until a wide release, more die a quiet death after the festival circuit not to be seen again, and some get to make it to public—though limited—release. At the Tribeca Film Festival, I tweeted that “Janie Jones” was going to be the breakout film of the festival when released in October. Having spent a one week run at the Coolidge Corner Theater, it turns out I was as right about that as I was about Baby Animals being the next Pretenders. While I was wrong about the film’s staying power, I don’t think I was wrong about its quality, so I still have a thing or two to say about it.
“Janie Jones” follows the story of the title character (played nicely by Abigail Breslin) as she meets her father for the first time at age 13. Janie’s father is Ethan Brand (Alessandro Nivola), an aging rich kid rock star on tour with his band. When her mother (Elizabeth Shue) drops her off at one of his gigs and takes off—supposedly to enter rehab, the band has a new passenger to deal with and Brand has to deal with a kid he never knew he had nor isn’t sure he wants. After his band (including Frank Whaley) and road manager (Peter Stommare) ditch him halfway through, Brand tries to salvage his career making his way though small gigs heading towards SxSW, all the while with a daughter he doesn’t know in tow.
This is a very sweet film that is a very personal story for writer/director David M. Rosenthal, who met his daughter at a similar age and based the script upon it. The story rings true in this fictionalized version through all the musical performances as well as the acting. Led by Nivola and Breslin, all actors perform their own music and do themselves justice. The film’s final son is especially poignant, which solidifies the central slow growing relationship between two strangers who become father and daughter as well as friends. While Breslin and Nivola ground the film, all the performances work well. Notable are the great and unrecognizable Stommare and Whaley as the last band holdout/mutineer. The biggest peeve with the movie for me is that if your title character and movie is titled after one of the first Clash songs, there should be at least a good punk song in it, if not a punk vibe. This movie shows the more alternative folk and rock scene straight through. While the music written and performed was fine throughout, I was hoping for a bit more of an edge which it lacked. Still the movie is a nice character study of a mismatched couple figuring out each other and how they fit in their lives.
It might be that lack of edge that didn’t push “Janie Jones” further into the moviegoing consciousness, but it still deserved a better run in theaters than it did. It’s a movie not about explosions but implosions, and sometimes that can get lost in the spectacles out lately. Still as independent filmmaking goes, it’s a nice piece of work that has an honest ring lacking in most other films and deserves a look-see.