Music has always had a rather strong place in film, sporadically appearing on big and small screens alike. After big hits such as Walk the Line, Crazy Heart or Nashville, it is now the turn of Jackie & Ryan, the sophomore feature film of the daughter of the legendary director Michael Mann, Ami Canaan Mann, who returns to the Lido and the Orizzonti competition after Texas Killing Fields that screened in that very section three years ago.
Jackie & Ryan follows Ryan (Ben Barnes), a young and handsome freight-hopping musician, a happy-go-lucky vagabond, who returns to the small town of Ogden, Utah to look for his old friend, Cowboy. There, he meets by chance Jackie (Katherine Heigl), a single mother with a very successful musical past and caught up in a messy divorce and a battle for the custody of her daughter Lia (Emily Alyn Lind). And, as life would have it, they eventually and predictably fall in love…
Their love story could not be simpler, which actually works because of the actors’ light touch and the extremely low-key characteristic of it all. Maan uses a fast-paced yet unaffected and delicate style that depicts ordinary people in ordinary life situations and hits the right chords – literally. And, in spite of some clichés scattered here and there, there are no self-pity, tears or excessive drama, which is quite refreshing indeed. However, the subplot involving Virginia (Clea DuVall), Cowboy’s girlfriend, is unfortunately underused as it might have brought more depth to the film.
Duane Manwiller’s unadorned camerawork does not seem keen to waste time on idealizing the setting or its characters and neither does Maan for that matter. But, the vast empty and snowy plains of Utah and its sunsets and sunrises do look appealing as seen through his sharp lensing. The street musician Nick Hans is responsible for the excellent music and melodious songs while Heigl and Barnes sing them themselves, based on traditional American tunes and reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen early songs.
Jackie & Ryan gives Barnes and Heigl – reunited onscreen after The Big Wedding – the opportunity to act sensibly and truthfully and show their singing skills as mentioned above. Katherine Heigl is not her usual rom-com self and thus steps out of her comfort zone. As for Barnes, he certainly shows maturity, versatility and potential. We do not however see enough of Clea DuVall and this is certainly a pity.
All in all, Jackie & Ryan is a marvelously crafted and poignant romance film about slump-stricken America, the life-changing power of a serendipitous meeting, music, human relationships and the simple things in life. Its unassuming nature, unalloyed storytelling and undisguised and aboveboard emotions blend together in a positive, merry and entertaining whole. The light and positive characters and an absolutely utopian message may not be everybody’s cup of tea or the ingredients of a great film, but if you like love stories, romance films and folk/country music, you will be in Heaven with this very little yet very big film. You’ll want to watch it with a cup of tea, a blanket and the cozy and warm company of your significant other. And, the music will definitely put a smile on your face.
Production: Hassell Free Productions, 120dB Films, Electric Shadow Company, Mainstreet Films, The Crema Family Office, Xantara Film Capital (USA 2014). Executive producers: Jon Avnet, Arianne Fraser, Rodrigo García, C.C. Hang, Harrison Kordestani and Todd J. Labarowski. Producers: Molly Hassell, John Jencks and Ami Canaan Mann. Co-producers: Stephanie Pon and Glen Trotiner. Associate producers: Datari Turner and Jacob Wassermann. Director: Ami Canaan Mann. Screenplay: Ami Canaan Mann. Photography: Duane Manwiller. Music: Nick Hans. Production Design: Diane Millett. Costume design: Mona May. Editing: Lauren Connelly and Mako Kamitsuna.
Cast: Katherine Heigl (Jackie), Ben Barnes (Ryan), Clea DuVall (Virginia), Sheryl Lee (Miriam), Emily Alyn Lind (Lia), Ryan Bingham (Cowboy’s Brother)
Color – 90 min. Premiere: 31-VIII-2014 (Venice Film Festival)
This film was reviewed at the 2014 Venice Film Festival.