Josie & Jack
Sibling relationships are complicated. Josie & Jack shows an unusually stressed pair of siblings, and how they cope with the tension between life inside and outside that relationship.
Based on the Kelly Braffet novel of the same name and directed by actress Sarah Lancaster, the film focuses on a brother and sister. Josie and Jack (Olivia DeJonge and Alex Neustaedter) were raised by their physicist father (William Fichtner). An alcoholic prone to angry outbursts did not make a great father, let alone one who insisted on homeschooling his children, but he was all they had. As they became teenagers more aware of what lies outside the home, they test their boundaries and their privileges.
Josie is timid, but also academically brilliant and loyal to a fault. She takes to liquor just like her father. Jack is the wilder, rebellious child who’s more preoccupied with power and obtaining drugs than pleasing his father. The two set out to win over a local pharmacy technician (Owen Campbell) on the days their father is teaching at the university, in order to get some drugs and have a little excitement in their lives. When things go wrong, it’s just the start of Josie and Jack’s misadventures in the real word.
It’s hard to tell what’s right and wrong, or good and evil, within Josie & Jack, as the characters themselves have no bearing on such things. Their father’s education left them aware of science and math, but completely without morals or street smarts. Jack in particular sees people as a commodity, while Josie’s limited empathy for other people is often overshadowed by her obedience to her brother.
Typical character studies offer the ethical anchor of most widely accepted social norms: don’t kill, the Golden Rule, the Ten Commandments, etc.. Josie & Jack is different in that we watch a couple of kids try to make it on their own without that ethical backbone. A strong performance from DeJonge helps make this undetermined journey understandable, if not relatable.
Some of the subject matter is dark, but the lighting within the film is even darker. Often using just the few lights in their old house or the barely-there natural light in a Manhattan apartment, the movie feels either cozy or claustrophobic, depending on the setting, but always visually strained. In both the story and on screen, there are things we cannot easily see.
The pacing is slow, but always aimed toward the unexpected. We’re often allowed to sit quietly with Josie’s face to see if we can figure out what she thinks about everything going on in a scene. Jack is far less reliable and often the instigator, so he’s more often left a mystery.
Neither exciting nor sexy, Josie & Jack takes a long cold look at a brother and sister and lets all of us come up with our own judgment on them.