Office Christmas Party
Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…
If a film based on author Nicholas Sparks’ work is like an over-produced power ballad with a 128-piece orchestra, writer/director Ami Canaan Mann’s “Jackie & Ryan” is the non-ironic acoustic guitar cover of the same tune. The attitude is comparably less immediate, the rhythm is even a bit more contemplative, but its form, and intent, has barely changed. The Sparks brand certainly lingers over this other modern romance, indeed one that features handsome Americans in a shiny story of their movie poster-friendly embraces.
The tale here is of two title characters whose paths of different starting points intersect, creating a symbiotic relationship that eventually shuffles into passion. Jackie (Katherine Heigl) is a once-famous musician who now lives with little money in her hometown of Ogden, Utah, while embroiled in ugly phone chats about custody of her daughter Lia (Emily Alyn Lind) with her estranged husband. When walking through downtown one day, she observes a rugged musician named Ryan (Ben Barnes) busking away on a folk tune, and notices that he only does covers. “Ain’t got nothin’ to say?” she chides him.
While this moment might technically be their meet-cute, it’s only when Jackie is knocked down by a comically slow-moving truck that the two connect. Through his charm and handy knowledge of roofing, he sticks around a few days with Jackie and her mother (Sheryl Lee). In a short amount of time, the two inspire each other: Jackie continues to push Ryan to write his own songs, while she finds comfort in his detachment from the types of things that can hold a human being down, which motivates her to stand up to her husband. After the script establishes an overall environment of hardship, it’s only then that Jackie & Ryan explore their romantic connection, which turns out to be the script’s least intriguing facet.
Barnes & Heigl take their characters the distance provided them by the story, which is not very far. Barnes has a weird gloss in his hobo-ness that renders him a boring fictional being fairly quickly, unchanged even when movie begins to idolize him. And as her character seeks divorce, Heigl spends half of her time acting with phones, and the other half with a plain stoicism. The two are both fine in the film, together and separately, but their chemistry is emblematically unspectacular.