Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 87 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 13+. This is a quiet romance about two people falling in love, including some kissing and an implied sex scene (they’re shirtless in bed together), as well as some cursing, adults smoking cigarettes, and an off-screen death. Also the suggestion of an abusive, or at least emotionally manipulative, marriage, and the central relationship occurs while its female member is technically married although pursuing a divorce.
The quiet romance ‘Jackie & Ryan’ benefits from its natural feel and rejection of melodramatic subplots. It’s a good, if thinly sketched, choice for those looking for a romantic fix who don’t want full Nicholas Sparks insanity.
By Roxana Hadadi
Sometimes two people falling in love doesn’t have to involve fatal illnesses, deathly accidents, or families who can’t stand each other. The quiet romance “Jackie & Ryan” rejects all those melodramatic elements we’ve come to expect from films of those genre (mainly because of the proliferation of Nicholas Sparks films, like this year’s “The Longest Ride” and “The Best of Me”) and instead presents affection and love in a natural, more believable way. Sure, it’s a little boring, but at least it’s realistic.
The film focuses on two characters: traveling folk musician Ryan (Ben Barnes, of “Seventh Son”), who hops trains, carries all of his belongings in one pack and one guitar case, and is homeless; and struggling single mother Jackie (Katherine Heigl, of “The Nut Job”), who left a record deal and an unsupportive husband in New York City to raise her daughter in her hometown of Ogden, Utah. That’s where Ryan and Jackie meet when he sees her get hit by a car and rushes to her aid, only to realize that his pack is stolen while he’s being a good Samaritan.
To repay Ryan, Jackie invites him over to dinner, where they learn more about each other. He forges a rapid rapport with her daughter and fends off her disapproving mother, who judgmentally points out, “He is literally a homeless person.” She asks him about his past and what drew him to music, and points out that he should try writing his own stuff instead of only playing classic folk songs that countless other people have covered. When he insists “That’s all I got,” her “Now, that ain’t true,” isn’t just a rebuke, but an encouragement.
Whether the two of them get together, and how they work out their respective issues, are foregone conclusions; the film sets up enough scenes with them gazing at and being amazed by each other for the ending to be obvious. But romantic films are never really surprising in that way; instead, it’s nice to see Heigl and Barnes having an easy, comfortable feeling with one another, and for two characters to fall in love who actually have things in common.
Yet the film, and its characters, are both thinly sketched. Jackie and Ryan are both essentially Good People in Bad Situations, so none of their conflicts really carry dramatic weight. Ryan makes being homeless almost look carefree and earnest, and Jackie’s money issues seem to disappear when it’s time to buy Ryan an important gift. A character dies off-screen, but the loss makes barely a ripple in the narrative. The film is so consumed with everybody and everything being nice that it never really kicks into gear.
There are interesting subplots suggested about the insular nature, and failing economy, of the American small town and the long-term viability of folk music, but those are buried here. Wouldn’t you rather look at Ryan riding through majestic countryside on the back of a train instead? Or at Jackie arguing that motherhood is the best thing that has ever happened to her, and therefore to any woman? The film doesn’t go broad enough sometimes.
Nevertheless, this is a gentle romance for those who need a break from the often ham-fisted genre. “Jackie & Ryan” is far from perfect, but it serves its purpose well enough.
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