As directed by Antoinette Beumer and co-scripted by Dutch scribes Marnie Blok and Karin van Holst Pellekaan, the comedy-drama Jackie stars real-life siblings Carice and Jelka van Houten as, respectively, twin sisters Sofie and Daan. The women are Amsterdam professionals with an unusual history: They were raised by married gay fathers, who conceived them through in-vitro fertilization with an American hippie mother during the 1970s -- a woman the sisters have never met. As the movie opens, Sofie and Daan receive a call indicating that their mom Jackie (Holly Hunter) needs to be transported cross-country to receive physical therapy -- and that she has no other blood relatives. Within a few days, they've flown to the Southwestern U.S. to meet this strange, enigmatic woman, and wind up driving her in her camper to New Mexico. Over the course of the journey, these three strangers begin to forge a bond with one another.
This movie is a mess. Its most significant weakness is its broadest: It gives us potentially interesting characters and subjects them to the requirements of a tried-and-true Hollywood formula where narrative cliches are used to drive their central arcs forward, instead of a far more engrossing structure where the characters' inner needs and desires -- and their interactions with one another -- advance the story. We've seen this bittersweet stock tale of the dysfunctional grown children who reunite and fall in love with their estranged parent in dozens of other movies. And that's exactly what we get here. Each new sequence sets up some last-minute contrivance, some deus ex machina, for the sole purpose of moving these three individuals down a path of sitcom-level simplicity. For instance, why is it necessary for Sofie to get bitten by a snake in the desert? So that mom can come to the rescue with grassroots first aid and the sisters will feel closer to her. And how convenient that Sofie gets a call on her cell phone from her screwy, chauvinist boss just when she's gained the confidence to assert herself to a manipulative man. Never mind that Daan impersonated her sister and told the manager off minutes before; he has to call back at exactly the right moment and repropose a cushy employment situation to Sofie -- just so that she can demonstrate her inner growth to everyone by rejecting the offer and hanging up on him.
The movie becomes so predictable that you can put your finger on exactly what will happen minutes ahead of time. In its most implausible scene, the daughters are targeted for rape and accosted by a group of drunken redneck guys in a parking lot, and we know that mom is going to appear at the last minute, shotgun in hand, with a superhero-style rescue. That's exactly what occurs.
There are other problems as well. Although the Middle America presented in the picture is generally credible, one scene feels enormously misguided; it has the siblings and their mom sitting in a bar where a blue-collar woman sings "Jesus Loves Me" on karaoke and earns an exchanged sardonic glance between the twins about what a feebleminded idiot she is. Although perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised by this -- given the prevailing attitude in European intellectual circles that religion is for morons -- this particular scene leaves an unpleasant taste in one's mouth for its inherent condescension toward spirituality.
The film is also too mysterious about Jackie, too elusive. Even at the surprise conclusion, when the character throws out a buried secret that paints the story in a slightly different light, there are enormous questions left unanswered about her past, and those omissions feel extraordinarily frustrating. There are certain movies and dramatic contexts where characters with suppressed histories lend more fascination to the material -- as in Bart Freundlich's The Myth of Fingerprints, for example. But here, the unknowns strike us as lazy and unrealistic, for in theory, Jackie should be opening up to Sofie and Daan over the course of the story as mother and daughters grow more intimate. Instead, the mom remains a cipher, an enigma.
Another word about the conclusion: It undercuts the emotional center that the movie has worked so hard to build. We feel lied to and manipulated. And while the revelation will not be disclosed here, it seems included merely to cinch up the whole story as a political sermon, a two-dimensional plug for alternative families. That viewpoint isn't objectionable per se, but it feels less than convincing, for we realize that all of the events of the preceding 90 minutes merely existed to drive home a message that hammers us on the head in the final scene. That sort of pedanticism is tricky. In order for it to work, the film needs to do a great many things in the preceding hour and a half -- to build credible characters whom we care about, and enable real investment in their lives and situations. Instead, Pellekaan and Blok work up to a big emotional payoff and go for a tearjerking finish, and it's a tip-off to the movie's ineffectuality that when the denouement rolls around, we could scarcely care less about the characters or the outcomes of their lives.
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- Released: 2012
- Rating: NR
- Review: As directed by Antoinette Beumer and co-scripted by Dutch scribes Marnie Blok and Karin van Holst Pellekaan, the comedy-drama Jackie stars real-life siblings Carice and Jelka van Houten as, respectively, twin sisters Sofie and Daan. The women are Amsterdam… (more)