Jack & Diane

Jack & Diane ★★★★

We first see Diane emerge out of a club bathroom and stumble into the body horror that lurks beneath the surface of Jack and Diane’s stilted but poignant love story, but it’s the real start of the story that is the most telling of their relationship: Diane wandering in New York, separated from her twin sister, in a hand-stitched thick dress and stumbling upon Jack, an intense female presence equal parts guiding hand and hunter. The parallels between Grimm folklore and modern teenage romance only build from there as Jack and Diane reciprocate a fierce interest in one another in the midst of a busy Manhattan squalor. But the “cat and mouse” element is quickly shaken. After a memorable first night, Diane bounds back to her auntie with a skip in her step, but Jack rides away, playing it cool, only to be smacked by a taxi cab, the side of her face bruised; now physically and metaphorically carrying both the pain and the joy of love that Diane is too naïve to understand. And there lies the relationship’s dynamic that gives each member a heavy hand in their conflicted romance, that in love, and especially in a case like this, each person finds themselves as both little red riding hood AND the big bad wolf, each role threatening within and outside of themselves.

Punctuated with humanist details and observed with a keen eye for emotive realism, Bradley Rust Gray’s dynamic portrait of a naturalistic romance with a fantastical underlying theme is both a refined and yet experimental continuation of the poignant study of youth in his previous feature. Initially almost mythical in presentation to one another, Jack and Diane’s layers fold back in their Sapphic passion to reveal detailed hearts with histories, amusing details, and worrisome insecurities. The necessity of action is always at the forefront of the characters here, making it all the more worrisome when decisions have to or can’t be made. A sibling story from each person mirrors their reluctance in their romantic entanglement, both the acknowledgement of possible heartbreak and the dehumanizing effect of sexual conquest. And yet it’s the unlikely party who’s more worried about love than lust, and the result is a gray area that the romance can’t seem to rise above. Consumed with fear, the lycanthropy angle of the story rises from a psychosexual level of their intimacy and frustration, a time bomb of who’ll snap first. While perhaps it would’ve been more successful as mere subtext instead of full-fledged “is it or isn’t it?” type fantasy, the hidden revelations of each woman as beasts-in-waiting clarify the fear of a young, new romance: that withdrawal can be more devastating than even the most intimidating pursuit.

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