What You Need To Know:
Despite the movie’s clever biblical allusions and visual metaphors, THE BALLAD OF JACK AND ROSE fails to satisfy. The characters are not ultimately convincing and the production lacks entertainment value, even though many dramatic events occur. Beyond that, the movie contains plenty of foul language, very strong sexual content that includes themes of incest and teenage seduction, a mixed worldview, and disturbing references to teenage suicide.
(PaPa, B, C, PC, Acap, E, LLL, V, SSS, NN, A, DD, MMM) Mixed pagan worldview includes some pagan content, some biblical, moral allusions to the serpent in the Garden of Eden, some moral enlightenment during course of story, light Christian content wherein emotionally distraught man becomes repentant and asks God to forgive him because of the mess he’s made in raising his daughter, and some politically correct, anti-capitalist, pro-environmentalist content; 20 obscenities (including some “f” words), one strong profanity and nine light exclamatory profanities; some light violence includes environmentalist shoots a rifle at workers building a housing tract on an island, girl brandishes gun at father’s live-in girlfriend and teenager accidentally falls from treehouse during fight with girl’s father, arson, and teenager talks of suicide; strong sexual content includes depicted fornication between two teenagers, implied oral sex between another teenage couple, 17-year-old girl offers herself to shy boy who refuses, implied fornication between adults, girl spies on father and girlfriend fornicating and interrupts them, and father and daughter share an incestuous kiss which disturbs the father and the audience; upper female nudity in home movies of hippies in commune, upper male nudity and bare back of 17-year-old girl who offers herself to another teenager, who refuses; alcohol use; smoking and marijuana use; and, radical environmentalist eventually recognizes his own selfishness, vandalism by environmentalist, girl sets fire to house right after her father dies in it, teenager becomes rebellious and acts out when her father moves his girlfriend into their isolated home, bad parenting examples from father and his live-in girlfriend, rebellion from other teenagers, and minor character appears to be a runaway teen.
THE BALLAD OF JACK AND ROSE contains some thoughtful allusions and excellent acting, but its story and characters don’t hang together eventually. They also aren’t compelling enough to invest so much time at the theater with them.
Set in 1986, the story begins on an American island off the northeastern coast. Jack, an ex-hippie played by Daniel Day-Lewis, owns a former commune on the island. There, spends time sheltering his beautiful daughter, Rose (Camilla Belle), from the capitalist sins of the outside world, as he sees it. Jack is especially upset by the new houses that a developer from the mainland is erecting on the island. The problem is, Jack suffers from a terrible heart condition. He may die at any moment, and he warns Rose about this fact. Jack is shocked, however, to hear Rose say that, when he dies, she plans to commit suicide.
Jack invites his girlfriend, Kathleen (Catherine Keener), and her two teenage boys, Rodney and Thaddius, to stay with Rose and him. Jack, who has inherited a lot of wealth, even gives Rose a check to convince her to quit her low-paying job and live on the island with them. “My kid needs a woman around the place and so do I,” he tells her.
Rose, of course, doesn’t like this turn of events much. She thinks about killing Kathleen. At first, she recklessly brandishes a shotgun at the woman, but then she sneaks two poisonous copperhead snakes under her bed that Kathleen’s son, Thaddius, has caught and placed in a box.
Both of Rose’s plans go awry. Later, an accident partly instigated by Rose injures Thaddius. Kathleen angrily leaves the island with both sons in tow, but Rose’s success in driving them away only brings up more painful issues that Jack must confront.
In this slow-moving story, Rose is clearly an innocent whose innocence is corrupted by her father’s over-protectiveness and by the world’s entrance into their paradise, symbolized by Jack’s selfish relationship with Kathleen and the snakes. On leaving the island, Kathleen’s son Rodney even tells Rose, “You’re not bad; just innocent. Innocent people are dangerous.” Rose likes to grow wild flowers, and, at the end of the movie, after Jack has died, the viewer learns that Rose has moved to an actual commune in Vermont. The last shot of the movie is an image of Rose placing a flowered plant into a pot. This is a clever visual metaphor of Rose’s maturity from wild, innocent and dangerous nature girl to a cultured adult.
Despite the movie’s clever biblical allusions, visual metaphors and complexity, THE BALLAD OF JACK AND ROSE fails to satisfy. The characters are not ultimately convincing and the production lacks entertainment value, even though many dramatic events occur. The writer and director, Rebecca Miller (who is married to Daniel Day-Lewis), has not inserted much pizzazz into her story or her characters to make the average viewer truly care. Some tighter editing and scriptwriting would help immensely. Still, some viewers may find themselves intrigued by the provocative, complex nature of the story and the acting. It takes more than that, however, to create a great movie, or even a good one.
Beyond that, THE BALLAD OF JACK AND ROSE has a mixed worldview that is mostly negative. It also contains plenty of strong foul language, sexual content that includes themes of incest and teenage seduction, and disturbing references to attempted murder and thoughts of suicide. For example, at one point, Rose takes off her top and offers herself to Rodney, who is shy and refuses. Later, she and Thaddius fornicate in her bed, and Rose angrily flaunts the bloody evidence of the loss of her virginity to her father, who naturally gets very upset. Toward the end of the movie, when Kathleen and her sons have been driven off the island, Rose seduces her own father with a kiss. In this scene, Jack finally realizes what a mess he has made in raising Rose. “God forgive me! God forgive me!” he cries. Indeed.
All of this negative content further alienates those viewers who might have any kind of moral sensibility.