With his first two features, "Salt" and "The Exploding Girl," Bradley Rust Gray established a patient, lyrical style in which form and content blended together with remarkably fluid results. "Jack and Diane" is an unfortunate break from that trend, a structurally messy and confusing attempt at magical realism that doesn't find the clarity it needs to justify the rampant strangeness. Hyped for years as a whimsical project to watch, the concept never finds a coherent hook and instead drowns itself in atmosphere, a danger Gray's earlier films managed to avoid.
It may have been inevitable fate. A longtime passion project for Gray, "Jack and Diane" was once set to star Ellen Page and Olivia Thirlby. Now completed with the similarly feisty pair of Juno Temple and Riley Keough, the movie maintains a curious trajectory that occasionally clicks for the sheer offbeat investment Gray brings to his unconventional love story. However, as Gray explores the central coupling with a random, allegorical approach, he invites a mixture of confusion and boredom that stymies his ambition.
After a brief, inexplicable encounter between a bloody Diane (Temple) and a monstrous presence, the movie flashes back to an earlier period: Here, Diane hops off a New York City bus in search of her twin sister and wanders into the decrepit record shop where the instantly seductive and openly butch Diane (Keough) stands behind the counter. A few knowing glances and bar drinks later, the newly introduced couple have spent a passionate night in each other's arms.
At that point, "Jack and Diane" branches out to explore the two women dealing with their respective issues at home. Jack constantly feuds with her mother while the British Diane, staying with her uptight aunt, attempts to hide her looming deadline for leaving New York from her new partner. Suffering from occasional nosebleeds and disorienting dreams in which she transforms into a hulking lupine terror, Diane inhabits a disorienting subjectivity and the movie takes the plunge with her to constantly mixed results.