Release Date: June 10, 2016 (Limited and VOD)
Director: Felix Thompson
MPAA Rating: NR
Run Time: 81 Min.
This is a repost of our review from Tribeca 2015. King Jack is playing in select cities and on VOD platforms now.
Ah, another film festival and another coming-of-age story set in a decaying rural community. Even as a fan of the coming-of-age tale, I was just about to wash my hands of movies like this, but then King Jack went and won me over with its strong visuals and a breakout performance from Charlie Plummer.
The feature debut from director Felix Thompson, King Jack, follows the life of Jack (Plummer), a rambunctious adolescent who is charged with taking care of his younger cousin, Ben (Cory Nichols), who comes to live with him after Ben’s mother has a breakdown. Jack is full of energy, has some behavioral issues and is mercilessly bullied by the neighborhood kids and his older brother, Tom. Now, Jack must navigate the treacherous waters of being a teen while also protecting himself and now his cousin from the terrifying Shane (Danny Flaherty) and his cronies.
While this all sounds very “after-school special,” Thompson, who also penned the script, handles the hot-button issue of bullying in a very mature and subtle manner, making everything feel natural and realistic. Like last year’s Hellion, the film does become more cinematic in the final act as the conflict begins to crescendo, but it hardly proves detrimental to the overall experience.
Charlie Plummer’s Jack is the standout of the film and its main saving grace from being lost in the ever-expanding catalogue of movies I hate to call “poverty porn.” Plummer completely nails the role, portraying Jack as a complex kid with more emotional baggage than most his age who talks a big game but has a kind soul. At the beginning of the film, he’s selfish, only looking out for his own best interests, but after his mother makes him care for his cousin, he’s forced to adopt a new way of thinking that includes being considerate of others.
King Jack is an emotionally charged, authentic portrayal of growing up with just enough comedic levity to keep things lively without undercutting the serious subject matter. The shenanigans Jack gets himself into, and some of those thrust upon him, can be humorous, but they never take away from the seriousness of Jack or Ben’s turmoil.
Yes, this film does carry the same aesthetic and a similar tone to Mud, Joe and Hellion, so if you’re not a fan of that style of storytelling, King Jack may not appeal to your taste. But if you are, this is a film that easily stands on its own as a heartfelt, realistic and wonderfully scripted coming-of-age story with some great performances to back it up.