Jack Goes Home comes to us courtesy of actor Thomas Dekker, who wrote the film 10 months ago over the course of three weeks. The film had its premiere at The SXSW Music, Film and Interactive Conferences and Festivals on Sunday night. Dekker uses the kitchen sink approach with Jack Goes Home, throwing as many tropes and other genre devices into the mix and sees what works. Most of it doesn’t work, but when it does it shows an enormous amount of potential from Dekker as a director. However, his skills as a writer that need some fine-tuning.
Jack (Rory Culkin), a magazine editor and soon-to-be-father living in Los Angeles, learns that a car crash has killed his father and left his mother Teresa (Lin Shaye) with multiple physical and emotional wounds. He returns to his home in Denver, Colorado to care for his mother as she recuperates from the traumatic incident. While there, he begins uncovering long-buried secrets about his childhood kept from him by his parents. With the emotional support of his best friend Shanda (a barely recognizable Daveigh Chase), Jack must deal with the repercussions of going home.
Dekker has rounded up quote an impressive cast for Jack Goes Home. In addition to Culkin, Shaye and Chase, the film also boasts the impressive talents of Natasha Lyonne, Britt Robertson and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her Nikki Reed. There isn’t a weak link in the bunch, save for maybe Louis Hunter as Jack’s flirtatious neighbor Duncan, who seems think he is acting in a soap opera. All of the other actors do their best with the material they are given (particularly Shaye, who has never been more fun), but they can only do so much with Dekker’s script, which unfortunately does them no favors.
Culkin, who is in nearly every scene, carries the film with a considerable amount of ease. He imbues Jack with just enough endearing qualities that you will find yourself easily empathizing with his plight, The problem is that after a certain point in the film Jack becomes an unreliable narrator, and many viewers may find it difficult to connect with a lead character that they cannot trust.
As mentioned before, the script was written over the course of three weeks, and it shows. Had a little bit more time been spent trimming the fat and polishing the dialogue, Jack Goes Home could have easily been a much better film. There isn’t a lot of motivation for many of the things that characters do, and while a third act twist does explain the reasoning for this, it’s too little, too late. Much of the dialogue comes off as incredibly pretentious and the quality of the writing does not merit pretension. That being said, understanding that Dekker wrote the film about his depression following his father’s death in 2010 helps to put the film in a better context: this is Dekker’s depressed state of mind represented on film.
Nothing about the film is subtle. There is no subtext in Jack Goes Home. It’s just text. Nothing is left to the imagination. Dekker chooses to hit you over the head repeatedly with all of his themes of depravity, sexual abuse and depression. In his hands, it’s all handled rather clumsily. This may be the intent since it is supposed to be a journey into the mind of a mentally disturbed man, but it doesn’t feel intentional and the film grows tedious quickly.
Jack Goes Home is a bold move for Dekker and you have to admire the sheer ambition of the project. It certainly creates interest for whatever it is that Dekker has in store for us next. There probably are some people that will enjoy Jack Goes Home, I’m just not one of them. Who knows, maybe I just didn’t get it? It is worth a watch just for the talent involved and the bizarreness of the whole thing. Just understand what you’re getting yourself into.