The Manic Pixie Dream Girl (and the use of the term) has plagued romantic films for the past decade. There are none in sight in Jackie & Ryan, but writer/director Ami Canaan Mann has gone one better by creating the Laidback Folk Dream Guy instead. So utterly perfect is Ben Barnes’ Ryan that it’s a disappointment he’s not yet eradicated poverty and brought peace to the world. At least he brings some pretty tunes in a sappy, stupid and also rather sweet film that rises up a notch every time someone reaches for an instrument.
Barnes’ Ryan is a traveller who moves in freight carriages and lives under the stars. He funds this life by busking with his friend Georgie (Lyle Werner). Heading to snowy Ogden to catch up with his old mentor, he meets Katherine Heigl’s Jackie. Once a briefly successful musician, she’s now in the midst of a rancorous divorce from her New York based husband, the argument settling on custody of their daughter Lia (Emily Alyn Lind). Broke and without a plan, it’s the perfect time for Ryan to turn up and do some rescuing.
Boy does he know how to rescue. Quite literally at first when she’s getting run over by a truck and metaphorically later on. He implausibly sticks around going out his way to help, spontaneously fixing a hole in her mother’s roof, teaching Lia to play guitar and offering a stream of sage advice. Also, for a man who’s effectively homeless, he’s impeccably turned out in chic backpacking style.
There’s nothing subtle about Mann’s film. Before Ryan has all his worldly belongings stolen, the camera very carefully puts them in shot as he rushes to his damsel’s distress, willing to risk all he has to help. There’s also ample opportunity to bump into old friends sparking heavy handed exposition. For once it’s Heigl who gets a little bit more to work with. At least she actually has genuine troubles that don’t stem purely from a need to find a man; although if she happens to find a handsome guitar playing one along the way then that seems to be ok. And it’s not like she doesn’t get to save him as well, encouraging him to pursue his own song writing.
When it’s not bludgeoning romance into place, Jackie & Ryan seems almost pathologically incapable of ending conversations normally. They all have to finish on an enigmatically indecipherable line of cod philosophy, even young Lia getting in on the act. It’s also not averse to rushing through a bit of cheap emotion, particularly when Ryan gets bad news and next shot he’s looking sad at a funeral or earlier as Jackie dredges up old memories and feels the need to dash out into the cold night and weep.
For all the stupidity on display, and there’s certainly a lot, when the music starts it all seems less important. That’s Jackie & Ryan’s real secret. It knows no one can resist a good tune.
Director: Ami Canaan Mann
Writer: Ami Canaan Mann
Stars: Katherine Heigl, Ben Barnes, Clea DuVall