In a very Harmony Korine kind-of-way, feature-debuter Felix Thompson spotlights the pain of maturation in his Tribeca Audience Award winner, King Jack.
Well, maybe “pain” isn’t the right word. Humbling humility? Hormonal rampage? Award social excursion through the bowels of embarrassment and conflict? A child coming-of-age is often thought of as a beautiful thing, but Thompson’s honest suburban tussle pays homage to the licks that shaped our makeup. I should mention how Thompson carves a sweet tale of family and friendship, but growing up ain’t easy – we like to reminisce about the good, while burying the pain. Necessary pain that molds, shapes, and baptizes our better-selves by fire.
Charlie Plummer stars as Jack, a typical teenage freshman trying to navigate the diabolical halls of high school. It’s summer, yet Jack still finds himself in summer school due to his inattentive nature. When he’s not sending his crush shirtless pictures, he’s either ignoring his mother (played by Erin Davie) or avoiding the school bully (Shane, played by Danny Flaherty). But on this particular weekend, Jack’s forced to play babysitter to his cousin Ben (Cory Nichols) – a social prison sentence if he’s ever heard one. Bored and restless, Jack starts aimlessly wandering around town with Ben trudging behind, but what starts as any other day ends up delivering a lesson in manhood we can all learn from.
So how is King Jack any different from Kings Of Summer, The Way Way Back or even Ryan Gosling’s Lost River? It’s not – honestly. That’s not a bad thing, but Jack goes about this character-building weekend with the same juvenile delinquency as most bored-and-lost children might. He foolishly fights back against Shane, finds himself in hot water and rises from the ashes of redemption in a moment that proves his true, more human colors. There’s a snobbish, trouble-seeking beginning, followed by an epiphany-like end that begins a new chapter in Jack’s life.
So, like I said, this is pretty cut-and-dry coming-of-age material.
Where King Jack succeeds is in tone, perception and character – something that a plot cannot dictate. Under the guidance of Felix Thompson, Jack’s home town becomes a ravaged dystopia of sorts, torn by classes and safe zones. This brings to life the thought of high school being somewhat of a battlefield, as Jack must battle enemies (Shane), avoid temptation (girls) and discover himself in the most chaotic of circumstances. Thompson’s sunkissed backyards and concrete landscapes are an honest depiction of middle-to-lower class America, and Jack’s exploration furthers such honesty by embracing the lumps and bruises that accompany a self-discovering path.
This is no coming of age story, it’s the Odyssey told through dick pics and Truth Or Dare.
Bless Charlie Plummer and his angsty indifference as Jack, who never succumbs to cinematic overplaying. There’s a sincerity in his mute, could-care-less attitude towards just about anything – you know, typical teenage indifference. His head-butting is nostalgic, as social interactions reek of anxiety and inexperience. Jack represents a perfect balance between brazen confidence and dumbfounding ignorance, until his cousin Ben leads him down a path to a better way of life – maybe not more mature, but less selfish and totally redeemable.
Plummer’s chemistry with Cory Nichols doesn’t establish itself through words, but playful boys-will-be-boys pastimes. Jack asserts himself as the dominant force, but is emasculated when he can’t even hit an underhand pitch from Ben. Jack makes excuses, Ben smirks, and the two immediately establish a repertoire that many older/younger siblings can connect with – a familial bond masked in deceptive rivalry. Jack’s interactions with his tormentor Shane hit the right notes of unchecked aggression (standing up to bullies), Jack’s mother pays homage to the women who bravely support by doing their best, and the gaggle of schoolyard girlies range from deviously bitchy to sweetly protective – but no camaraderie tops Jack and Ben’s partnership.
King Jack is both a summer-bound trip down memory lane and a heartfelt ode to impassioned youth. It’s a rough, rocky road, but Felix Thompson elevates his more familiar adolescent story through a simple conflict and a savage dose of reality – raw filmmaking on a more subdued, focused level. Trials and tribulations challenge one boy to be more than another generic high school bum, and his actions are nothing more than backyard banter – but it’s real, truthful, and enjoyably cathartic.
King Jack is an emotional coming-of-age story that doesn't shy away from the lumps and bruises of pseudo-adulthood.