A.M. Homes is
known around the literary community as a bit of an expert when it
comes to writing about suburban families. Nearly all of her
novels and story collections focus on the issues facing the
modern suburban family. Jack is actually one of two of
her books to be made into a cable television-original. The other,
The Safety of Objects, tried to turn her first short
story collection into a Short Cuts-esque film starring
Glenn Close and Dermot Mulroney. Short Cuts it is not,
but The Safety of Objects does have a few shining
moments. Jack may not fare quite as well with Stockard
Channing and Ron Silver in the starring roles, but the charisma
of a young actor named Anton Yelchin does manage to give the film
a silver lining.
Jack, for which Homes wrote the screenplay, is based on
her first novel about a young boy struggling with adolescence
that finds out that the reason his parents got divorced is
because his father is gay. To put it mildly, that's a whole lot
for someone just about to turn sixteen to take in. Couple that
with the fact that Jack is probably one of the most eccentric
teenagers you're ever likely to meet. He's intelligent and mature
beyond his years with an oddball sense of wit and a dry,
self-deprecating tone. Toss in a pretty girl who also has a gay
father and a best friend whose family appears, on the surface, to
be perfect in just about every way, and you've got yourself a
very strange little community. This, my loyal readers, is A.M.
Showtime Entertainment decided to make Jack into a
Showtime Original film, who better to adapt the novel into a
screenplay than Homes herself, right? Well, not necessarily.
While I absolutely adore her books, A.M. Homes adapts her first
novel into a screenplay that is just a bit too much like a novel.
Her knack for description, character, and dialogue is great, but
it doesn't exactly translate that well to the screen. Jack
relies too heavily on the main character's voiceover (which I
think could have been very effective in the film if it
had been used more sparingly), and there are just a few scenes
that, as you're watching them, seem to want to sit on the page
rather than on the screen. You can actually hear yourself saying,
"Wow, this would be great in a novel, but doesn't
exactly work in the film." Homes does, on the other hand,
bring her sense of humor and charm to the film. Those touches are
what keep the script from being a complete failure.
What keeps Jack
from being a waste of time, however, are the performances of
cast. Stockard Channing has got this part down pat by now. She's
been in so many television movies playing that same motherly
character that she now has the ability to bring a little bit of
nuance to each one. Her subtle variations are what make her worth
watching in every film that seems to place her in the same exact
part as her previous work. Her relationship with Jack is
believable and heartfelt, as is her complicated relationship with
Jack's father. Ron Silver plays Jack's father with a sense of
loyalty both to his son and to his newfound sexuality. It's clear
that he loves Jack and, at one time, he loved Jack's mother.
There are certainly some clichéd moments and schmaltz to be
found in these performances as well, but Channing and Silver do
their best to rise above the sub-par script.
The real star of Jack, however, is relative newcomer
Anton Yelchin. Find me a perfect young actor to play the oddball
character of Jack, and I'll be very surprised. Yelchin looks like
he was born to play the troubled, eccentric teenager with the gay
father. His dry sense of humor and intelligence show through the
character, and his deadpan delivery is absolutely spot-on. There
are moments when Yelchin turns from a completely calm,
introspective character into a raving lunatic that would jump
straight into a lake when his father confesses his newfound
sexuality. The fact remains, however, that Yelchin makes it work.
He makes Jack feel authentic and absurd in a way that many young
actors would never have been able to achieve. For a film that
completely hinges on finding the perfect actor for its main
character, Jack finds the absolute right choice in Anton
There are times
when these Showtime Original movies (or any cable
television-original movies for that matter) have a tendency to
fall into movie-of-the-week schmaltzfests. Jack treads
awfully close to that line at times, but the strength of the cast
and the original story (mind you, I didn't say script) by A.M.
Homes are what make the film a bit more worthy of your time.
Anton Yelchin is a great find, Stockard Channing brings new
twists to a character she's played before, and the supporting
cast of characters is equally strong. Jack may,
ultimately, lay it on a bit thick, but there is definitely some
heart and humor to be found in the film.
presented in an anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer that has
its fair share of issues. Fleshtones are accurate and color
saturation, for the most part, is quite good. Bright, vivid
colors show up in several scenes - the basketball game, comes to
mind - but the overall color palette is a slightly muted tone
that this transfer handles just fine. Detail, however, is often a
bit soft and black levels are not as rich as they could be. The
biggest issue with this visual presentation is the abundance of
grain (some of which is to be expected from low-budget fare such
as this) that becomes apparent from time to time. There are no
apparent instances of edge enhancement or digital artifacts, but
the print could certainly have used a cleaning, as there
definitely some dirt, spots, and scratches present. Overall, this
is a transfer that fails to elevate the visual presentation above
that of the film's original broadcast quality.
The audio on
this disc is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 formats
that both end up being simply adequate. The 2.0 track is probably
much closer to what you may have heard if you tuned into Jack
on Showtime. It has little dynamic range, but is well balanced
and suits this type of film just fine. Dialogue is always clear,
crisp, and distinct, and the score (which I thought was mostly
putrid) never becomes overwhelming at any point in the film. Jack
isn't exactly the type of film screaming out for a surround mix,
but the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is a nice little upgrade from the
2.0 track. The dialogue seems more natural anchored in the center
channel, and there are even a few very subtle surround touches.
In this case, it really comes down to personal preference, as
both tracks are good. I slightly preferred the 5.1 track to the
2.0, but either track is a fine audio presentation.
The first extra
feature on this disc is an audio commentary with Director
Lee Rose and Actor Anton Yelchin. Rose is alone on the
track for the first fifteen minutes or so, and she nearly put me
to sleep. She mostly explains what's happening on screen or
chooses to stay silent. She does manage to drop in a few tidbits
of information about the filming and the fact that Jack
is based on the first novel by A.M. Homes, but there's not a
whole lot to be gained here. Yelchin livens up the track a bit
when he first arrives, providing a few funny moments and some
anecdotes from the set, but even he wears out as the track
continues. There are many instances of silence throughout the
remainder of the track, and what is offered isn't exactly
enlightening. It would have been nice to hear some thoughts from
Homes, who also wrote the screenplay based on her own book, but
alas, she is nowhere to be found on this otherwise sleep-inducing
Also included on this disc is a very short behind-the-scenes
featurette that you might see playing directly after the
film showed on Showtime. It's a highly produced little segment
that includes some cast and crew interviews mixed in with clips
from the film. Had it been longer, this could have been a
worthwhile addition to the film. As it is, however, this
featurette is your basic EPK fluff.
Finally, we also have a photo gallery with both
candid shots and stills from the film, a few text
filmographies, and previews for The
L Word and Manhood.
If you're a fan
of the work of A.M. Homes, you'll certainly want to give Jack
a spin at least once. Although not nearly as strong as The
Safety of Objects, there are some noticeable similarities in
the tone and oddball humor of the films. Jack may have
done well to find someone less intimate with the original novel
to adapt the screenplay. As it is, the film struggles with some
scenes that seem too fit for the page rather than the screen.
That cast, nevertheless, manages to tackle the material with
enthusiasm and creativity. The performances of Channing, Silver,
and especially Yelchin are what make Jack watchable. I
only wish there had been a few extra features that actually gave
me a better appreciation for the film included on this disc.
While the film is worth watching at least once, the commentary
track is a snoozefest and the featurette is simply too much fluff
to warrant anything more than a rental.