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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Jack
Showtime // PG-13 // December 7, 2004
List Price: $26.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Scott Lecter | posted May 30, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:
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. Homes territory.

So when 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 clich├ęd 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 Yelchin.

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.


Jack is 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 track.

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.

Final Thoughts:
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.

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