The Ballad of Jack and Rose reads like a fever dream but plays like a training film, a combination of the prosaic and the ludicrous that constantly astounds with its self-serious departures from reality.
The eponymous Jack (Daniel Day-Lewis) is an embittered ex-hippie living alone on his failed island commune with only teenaged daughter Rose (Camilla Belle) as company. Rose is, naturally, a tad confused, especially when dad moves in current flame Kathleen (Catherine Keener) and two misfit sons, Thaddius and Rodney (Paul Dano and Ryan McDonald).
Adolescent sexuality ensues, as do withering remarks about housing developments and bizarrely garbled post-mortems on '60s idealism. I'd say there was some statement mongering at work, but discerning actual statements becomes a tad difficult in the lysergic imagination of writer/director Rebecca Miller. She fires blindly in all directions in hopes of hitting a target and fuses together thematic threads that have no business being in the same space/time continuum.
But lest you hope for a delicious camp travesty, be advised that Miller has delusions of realism, meaning that she squelches the excesses of her script with meat-and-potatoes imagery that makes sure you pay attention to the non-subjects not being discussed. It's Jabberwocky rewritten by Barton Fink, something that means nothing but constantly alerts you to how serious that nothing is. Still, the performances never waver: Day-Lewis once again shows what a pro he is, Dano and McDonald are revelations, and Beau Bridges is hilarious as a cuddly land developer who seemingly means no harm.
It's sad to see them wasted on something without a centre or purpose, though fans of the compellingly weird will want to take a look. (Alliance Atlantis)