For those who found Sofia Copolla’s Somewhere too arty and Crazy Heart too hicky, writer-director David M. Rosenthal’s Janie Jones offers an alternative. Alessandro Nivola plays an alcoholic rock star who’s on a downward career trajectory when he meets Abigail Breslin, the teenage daughter he didn’t know he had, from a one-night stand that he doesn’t remember. The other half of that one-nighter, Elizabeth Shue, dumps Breslin on Nivola then disappears into rehab, right as Nivola’s band, tour, and label deal all fall apart. Fortunately for Nivola, Breslin has plenty of experience with taking care of wastrels. She also has a guitar, and a nascent talent for songwriting that inspires Nivola to try to get back to his roots in time for a showcase at SXSW.
Janie Jones frequently suffers from a disconnect between its style and its script. Rosenthal seems to be going for a low-key naturalism in the performances and the look of Janie Jones, but then he has the newly solo Nivola play an acoustic show in front of chattering rednecks who call him a “faggot” when he asks them to keep the noise down. This movie loves its clichés, in other words. This is the kind of film where Breslin plays a song for an audience for the first time and the camera pans the crowd to catch all the appreciative nods. Even one of the pivotal plot points in Janie Jones—which sees Nivola losing fans after a YouTube clip of him beating up a bandmate onstage goes viral—plays like a stock stumble, not how that situation would actually play out in real life. (Though to be fair, Janie Jones was made before Charlie Sheen’s meltdown.)
Contrivances aside, though, Janie Jones is one of the more realistic depictions of what the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle is really like. No arenas or lavish suites here; it’s all motels and truck-stops and dark clubs in mid-sized cities. The music is on-point, too: Rosenthal drafted Eef Barzelay to write the songs for Nivola, and Gemma Hayes to write for Breslin, so the concert scenes both look and sound like actual alt-rock shows. And while Nivola has the quality of a man who’s been praised and catered to for years, the actor doesn’t play the character as the conventional egomaniacal celebrity drunk. He’s a talented guy who—like the movie he’s in—sometimes makes bad choices.