“A slow and vague, yet sincere and compelling study of a bullied teen’s angst.”
A troubled and bullied teenager is the subject of Felix Thompson’s debut feature. Winner of the Audience Award at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, King Jack is an arthouse study of adolescents’ angst portrayed with keen propinquity and sensitivity.
The film opens with 15-year old Jack (Charlie Plummer) spray-painting a profaned word on the garage door of his neighbor who turns out to be the school bully Shane (Danny Flaherty). That action transforms Jack’s summer weekend into a life-defining ruckus as Shane, along with his brutish cohorts, avenges by similarly defacing him. Conditions at home are also not helping Jack. His mother Karen (Erin Davie) is always out of reach trying to make ends meet to notice his plight, while his older brother Tom (Christian Madsen) is mostly abusive towards him.
Later, his 12-year old podgy cousin Ben (Cory Nichols) arrives and tentatively stays in their home as the boy’s mother recovers from a mental breakdown. Jack is initially exasperated but the cousins soon bond after an encounter with Shane’s gang. More fortunately, the duo gets to play a titillating version of Truth and Dare with the kindly Harriet (Yainis Ynoa) who happens to harbour a secret crush on Jack. However, Shane is not yet done and Jack suffers a terrible run-in with him again in Robyn’s (Scarlet Lizbeth) house party.
King Jack has an all too familiar material – a teenager, raised in a broken home, becomes prey to vicious bullies. Yet, director Thompson tells the story with compelling honesty and stylistic understanding. The titular character has no sweet innocence or angelic disposition. He is much like any modern-day teen, someone vulnerable to sexual tendencies and personal curiosities of his youth, someone intent on finding some sense of belongingness. He is into “sexting” and exploring the powers of his manhood. He is into parties and games. Yet, Jack remains an outcast of sorts with no friends, probably because of his own fears and uncertainties. There are no pretentions in Thompson’s material and such sincerity and clarity makes the film relatable to young audience while possibly soliciting raised eyebrows from more adult viewers.
The movie is purely a character study and the exposition revolves mainly around Jack and his growth. The ending is quite vague and dispiriting as the issue of bullying is not satisfactorily addressed. But then again, in a social circle where victims and predators take turns changing seats, there are things left unsaid, out of shame and trepidation, which leave lasting wounds and marks.
The young cast, with their energy and integrity, enlivens the film. Plummer is an impressively bright lead with his likable charm and raw emotions while Flaherty, with his flowing hair and murderous stare, perfectly personifies the bully.
King Jack, despite its sluggish build-up and hazy ending, is a moving, gripping, and honest portrayal of a bullied youth. It is sleepy at some points but the overwhelming understanding in the end makes it worth watching.
Production: Buffalo Picture House, Dominic Buchanan Productions, Stink Films, Whitewater Films
Cast: Charlie Plummer, Cory Nichols, Christian Madsen, Danny Flaherty, Erin Davie, Yainis Ynoa, Scarlet Lizbeth, Chloe Levine, Melvin Mogoli, Francis Piscopo, Elijah Richardson, Tony Divitto, Robert Nadig, Meeko Gattuso, Keith Leonard
Director/screenwriter: Felix Thompson
Producers: Gabrielle Nadig, Dominic Buchanan
Executive producers: Rick Rosenthal, Bert Kern, Nick Morton, Daniel Bergmann, Martin Forbes, Robert Herman
Director of photography: Brandon Roots
Production designer: Emmeline Wilks-Dupoise
Editor: Paul Penczner
Costume designer: Jami Villers
Composer: Bryan Senti