Tribeca Review: ‘Good Girl Jane’ is elevated by poignant performances
Good Girl Jane is a gritty character study from writer and director Sarah Elizabeth Mintz that expands on her 2017 short film of the same name, which took an equally unflinching look at life on the fringes. In the feature-length version, she carries the themes over through the use of handheld digital cameras, which capture every intimate moment of Rain Spencer in the title role.
In many ways, the film feels formulaic in its use of dramatic obstacles and conventional resolutions, while Mintz uses her camera to observe everything from a distance. Spencer submerges herself in the character of Jane, who arrives at a new school alongside her sister Izzie (Eloisa Huggins), having been removed from a previous one for reasons unknown; a situation which finds her isolated in class and ostracized at recess from classmates who fear change.
With their mother (Andie MacDowell) and father separated, Jane lacks the emotional stability of a cohesive family unit, because her parents are too wrapped up in themselves to pay any attention. Immersed in thrash metal and hiding any feelings beneath a broody exterior, she seeks solace in rebellion, taking late night trips to the convenience store and skipping classes on a whim to smoke cigarettes alone.
Unlike other dramas of a similar ilk, Good Girl Jane is lacking a straightforward conflict resolution plot line, where characters have learned something new come the credits. Although Jane does get adopted by a bunch of teenage delinquents and their drug dealing alpha male Jamie (Patrick Gibson), this dramatic segue lacks teeth. Her new surrogate family might be filling the emotional void of an absent father and indifferent mother, but cinematically we are dealing in stereotypes.
However, where Mintz does succeed in creating intimacy and urgency is through her camera, which enhances every scene regardless of where she places it. Whether in the backseat of a car traveling around town, or following people into a squalid house filled with small children playing, it captures everything and captivates without judgement.
As Jane continues her detachment from family and friends (aided by Jamie), Good Girl Jane changes tack and becomes more of a social commentary piece, one in which the archetype of drug dealers in cinema gets subtlety challenged by the performance that plays out.
On the surface, Jamie comes across as a streetwise opportunist who lacks any emotional core, as he chooses to exploit the age difference between himself and those around him. There is no denying that his actions around Jane and the other girls crosses numerous lines on multiple levels, yet Gibson still manages to imbue him with a little humanity.
Intimate moments he shares with Jane are there to make audiences uncomfortable, but similarly, Mintz includes them to imply that this connection might provide him with some redemption. On the face of everything else that goes down, including her increased addiction to meth, the director is asking viewers to question the circumstance and not just judge the person.
Her argument through the delicate handling of their relationship might be to raise questions around environment versus upbringing for Jamie. Whether or not the retribution and comeuppance which he experiences makes him as much of a victim as Jane is left deliberately open to interpretation, but film convention dictates that he must suffer for audiences to find closure.
Beyond the hypothetical moral and ethical arguments of Good Girl Jane, Mintz has created a film with an undeniable vibrancy, which comes mainly from the real-world locations. Scenes feel frenetic, exchanges organic, and confrontations more charged. This makes the indie drama come alive, despite the shortcomings of an ensemble cast burdened with thinly-written character arcs.
Despite those flaws, this is still a film with flashes of genuine poignancy, primarily because of Spencer and Gibson. In brief moments away from the grittier elements of this coming-of-age tale, both actors conjure something memorable from the material. There are moments which carry through into a conclusion that feels optimistic, even if not everyone walks away clean.
If nothing else, both Spencer and Gibson deserve to garner some attention from their performances in Good Girl Jane, potentially propelling them onto bigger things. Unfortunately, that depends on the amount of people who get see it through a limited theatrical run, or more likely included through subscription charges on an amenable streaming service.
The gritty character study is punctuated by moments of poignancy, which make it worth the investment.