A rock-and-roll family reunion
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, Nov 04, 2011
"Janie Jones" takes its cue from rock-and-roll at its most road-weary and hard-bitten, even if it has nothing to do with the Clash or the group's 1977 song of the same name.
Instead, writer-director David Rosenthal has set his modern family picaresque in the archipelago of Nowheresvilles in the American Midwest, where for years, aging alternative rocker Ethan Brand (Allesandro Nivola) has been plying the asphalt seas with his two backup musicians and an Ahab-like obsession with recapturing his lost youth and fame. (Ethan's fictional songs were written by Clem Snide's Eef Barkley, and Nivola assumes a credible Dave Alvin-like authority once he hits the stage.)
It's into this boozy, depressive world that an erstwhile groupie (played by Elisabeth Shue in a cameo) arrives one night to tell Ethan he's a father - and oh, by the way, she needs to go to rehab so here's his chance to bond with the 13-year-old daughter he never knew. M'kay, thanks a bunch, byeeee!
Luckily for Ethan, the kid in question is Janie Jones (Abigail Breslin), an unusually gifted and self-possessed teenager who regards Ethan with the even gaze of a much older and wiser soul that her years suggest. (A nervy sequence later in the film proves that her mien of maturity isn't a put-on.)
Nivola and Breslin make a terrific mismatched pair in a film that often resembles a mash-up of "Crazy Heart" and Sofia Coppola's "Somewhere," which may account for why it too often feels derivative and contrived - especially in a third act that revolves around a whiplash familial reveal and a sweet but preposterous payoff. Still, the two lead actors harmonize not only figuratively but literally, when Breslin shows that our Little Miss Sunshine can sing. Kudos as well to Frank Whaley and Joel Moore as Ethan's long-suffering bandmates; they aptly capture the affection, competition and testosterone-fueled chaos of a world bound by a stage on one side and a smelly tour bus on the other.
Contains brief drug use and adult themes.