Bad notes, old song in 'Janie Jones'
In "Janie Jones," the guitar-slinging pre-teen girl with the long black hair is 15-year-old Abigail Breslin, a little tougher-looking since her "Little Miss Sunshine" debut but sporting the same appealing mixture of pluck and vulnerability. She's not served well by this music-filled road drama, however.
Dumped by her ex-groupie single mom (Elisabeth Shue) into the hands of the father she never knew — a fading alcoholic rocker named Ethan (Alessandro Nivola) in the middle of a disastrous tour of divey bars — Janie should feel like more of a title character than a programmatic catalyst for his redemptive change, which is how she's presented by writer-director David M. Rosenthal.
She can cry on cue to make him feel bad and toss off a precocious wisecrack to lighten the mood and impress him with her inherited musical chops. But it's only her cumulative effect on him that's Rosenthal's big subject, which leaves Breslin with little chance to suggest an equally turmoil-ridden inner life of her own beyond the saccharine requirements of the story.
Nivola does a serviceable job conveying a certain kind of brittle, hotheaded flameout with remnants of musical soulfulness worth reviving. He's just no Jeff Bridges in "Crazy Heart," unfortunately, who was able to cut through sentiment with wily grit.
The musical performances, with Nivola's songs written by Eef Barzelay and Breslin's by Gemma Hayes, create a palpably emotional twinge, whether they're his harder-edged bleats or her folksy laments. But "Janie Jones" is ultimately its own uneven tune, a mixture of discordant notes and way-too-familiar chords.
"Janie Jones." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.