By Don Simpson | November 12, 2012
Director: David M. Rosenthal
Writer: David M. Rosenthal
Starring: Abigail Breslin, Alessandro Nivola, Elisabeth Shue, Brittany Snow, Peter Stormare, Joel Moore, Frances Fisher, Frank Whaley, Rodney Eastman, David Lee Smith
It should go without saying, but if you are going to name a film after one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands, it better be a really good film. So, admittedly, I was a bit hesitant going into David M. Rosenthal’s Janie Jones (the DVD sat on a shelf for six months before I decided to give it a chance). You see, typically, if I hear that a film is about a young girl who has been abandoned by her meth-head mother and left in the custody of a fading rock star — presumably her biological father — I run the other way. It is a synopsis that I would expect to read for one of those overly sentimental Lifetime flicks, with lots of crying and yelling; and, yes, Janie Jones does feature a lot of crying and yelling, but the film is a bit too authentic for the likes of the Lifetime Network.
Rosenthal’s semi-autobiographical film (which is named after the opening track of The Clash’s eponymous debut LP from 1977) is a gritty little indie flick, featuring an amazing performance by Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine, Zombieland) as the titular, abandoned 13-year-old girl. Janie’s trashy, drug addict mother is played quite convincingly by Elisabeth Shue; while Alessandro Nivola portrays Janie’s self-destructive rock star father with a Rolodex full of unlikable qualities. Janie’s parents are truly horrible human beings, but they never become goofy stereotypes or caricatures. Every one of their actions has sufficient motivation to back it up. For example, it might be difficult to think of a mother who would so recklessly abandon her young daughter; just as it would be equally difficult to imagine a rock star taking an unfamiliar 13-year-old on tour with him. In the case of Janie Jones, both of those decisions — though quite manipulated by Rosenthal — end up making perfect sense.
Most impressively, Breslin and Nivola both do admirable jobs singing and playing guitar. The songs they each sing and perform — penned respectively by Eef Barzelay and Gemma Hayes — help convey their innermost emotions, thus giving Janie Jones the feeling of a musical in the same vein as Once. My only complaint is how all of the adults seem to sneak up on Janie as she’s privately playing yet another one of her brilliant-for-a-13-year-old songs. Oh, and as an Austinite, I take great offense to Rosenthal’s half-assed attempt of recreating an outdoor SXSW performance with a riverside backdrop that looks absolutely nothing like Austin.