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    Jackie and Ryan (2015): Movie Review

    “Presentation has failed this otherwise beautiful piece of romance.” 

    Katherine Heigl and Ben Barnes star side-by-side as two musically-inclined people who strike a delicate kind of romance in writer-director Ami Canaan Mann’s Jackie and Ryan. Set in West America, the film teaches us how random people can help us find new depths in ourselves, enough to push us to traverse a new path and a new life. 

    The film opens with a scene about Ryan (Barnes), a rugged drifter who, with his tattooed fingers, can play the banjo really fine, as well as sing his covers of 1930s folk tunes. With his old instrument and a small pack, homeless Ryan boards a train and heads to the sleepy town of Ogden, Utah. Random passersby are captivated with Ryan’s street gig, including Jackie (Heigl), a once-famous country music singer who now lives meagrely in her hometown. Undergoing a messy divorce and a custody battle over her daughter Lia (Emily Alyn Lind) with her estranged spouse, Jackie has her ears constantly on her phone.

    The two meet again when Jackie is accidentally brushed by a truck. Ryan offers to take her home and Jackie’s initial invitation for dinner has turned to days of stay as he proves to be handy in helping around the house, especially in fixing the roof. Their comfortable friendship soon finds a romantic connection as they inspire each other. For Jackie, she finally finds the strength to stand up to her husband and fight for her child. For Ryan, he finally finds the words to write the music in his heart. Yet, there is no guarantee that the choices they make will lead them back to each other.

    With its mountains and small-town setting, few people and quiet life, Jackie and Ryan feels like a Nicholas Sparks’ film minus grandeur (breathtaking cinematography and imposing musical scores). Though simpler, it similarly offers a different way to view love and life. It is honest, modest and nostalgic. That Barnes actually plays the banjo and Heigl actually sings added believability and appeal to the film.

    Shying away from the usual romantic formula, the film ends with practical sense as the characters chose the path for self-development and fulfillment. It is not the happily-ever-after ending; yet, it gives more satisfaction with a sad undertone. With its musicality and sense of drifting to somewhere unknown, the movie feels more like something created by Robert JamesWaller, author of one of the most successful love stories in recent time – The Bridges of Madison County. Waller’s writings involve a chance encounter between some realistic characters, their leap of faith, and a bittersweet separation as they sort out their individual lives.

    Having said that, there are some elements in the film which have not worked perfectly, making the movie less engaging and lovable. For one, Ryan’s homeless life has been presented for far too long and yet his story arc is quite short and simple. Meanwhile, Jackie’s story is complicated but within her short presentation, she mostly spent her time talking on the phone.

    Aside from the musical sequences, the film lacks other factors that would have made us want to watch it entirely. It lacks humor and chemistry. Barnes, despite looking bored all of the time with his overgrown hair and beard, manages to pop out with his pretty face and magnetism. Similarly, Heigl has a subtle command to be seen and heard. Individually, they work well but together, they feel bland. They are more like best of friends or close siblings. This is evident in the movie’s official poster as their near-kiss pose does not exude a romantic flare.

    Jackie and Ryan is a touching small-town love story. It is musical, it is simple, it is sincere. It seems to have the perfect materials but its imperfect presentation betrays it. With the absence of either humor or chemistry, the film slightly misses the mark of an unforgettable, well-love romantic film.


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