Jack of Hearts

JACK OF THE RED HEARTS,  US, 2015. Starring AnnaSophia Robb, Famke Janssen, Scott Cohen, Israel Broussard, Taylor Richardson. Directed by Janet Grillo. 102 minutes. Rated PG (Mild themes and coarse language),

This is a film about autism, autism in a young child. It is geared towards the mainstream audience, a story that the audience can understand and respond to emotionally. If one Googles Wikipedia on films about autism, the list is quite long. Perhaps the most popular film in consciousness is Rain Man – and there is a line in the screenplay here which points out that the young girl, Glory, is no “rain man”. Another striking film about autism features Claire Danes as an autistic woman who achieved a great deal in her professional life, Temple Grandin.

Actually, the initial focus is on two runaways, two teenagers who have lost their mother and are in care, one of them already with a police record, a parole officer, and the threat of going to juvenile detention. The two girls set up a stall in the main street begging for money and encounter a father who puts up a poster looking for someone with experience with young girls. We have seen the mother and father at home and the efforts they are making to care for their 11-year-old daughter, Glory, strongly autistic, prone to being upset, not communicating well.

The older of the sisters, Jack (Anna Sophia Robb) takes the notice, waylays an expert young woman who is applying for the job, ingratiate herself into the household and, learning on the way, making some mistakes, getting deeper because of her lying, becomes Glory’s companion.

As may be anticipated, Jack, calling herself Donna because of the young woman whose papers she stole, begins to make an impact on Glory, sometimes hit-and-miss opportunities, but giving breathing space to the mother who is able to go back to work, something that gives her energy and exhilaration, arousing the attraction and then suspicion of Glory’s older brother.

The main emphasis on of the film is on the relationship between Jack and Glory, eliciting empathy from the audience, for the autistic young girl and the potential within her, for the sometimes irresponsible companion, brash and often self-centred, who, we know, also has great potential within her.

This gives the film some dramatic age, the audience wanting Jack to succeed with Glory but all the time aware that she is on very thin ice. It has to come to a head and does so dramatically, Jack wanting to get her sister out of foster care, prepared to take the consequences of her deception, but realising that she has communicated with the little girl and wants to assist in an interview where Glory could go for better education prospects.

Taylor Richardson is completely persuasive as Glory, the film indicating through its blurry photography and a focus on into playing shining lights something of how Glory perceives reality. Famke Janssen has a strong role as the mother. The screenplay of his quite some commentary on different approaches to working with autistic children, even showing some sequences from the 1962 film about Helen Keller, The Miracle Worker with Annie Sullivan helping Helen to understand water. A strong point is made about Glory, on a roof, on a tree branch, on heights, better able to comprehend and communicate.

As the film veers towards expected endings, it stops just in time from indulging sentimentality, leaving the audience to think about the future for all the characters concerned.

Heritage Films,    Released May 19th.

Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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