Caroline and Jackie
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“Caroline and Jackie” is an exercise in misdirection. It’s a spectacularly well-acted drama about two sisters confronting the legacy of their long, unstable relationship, with their closest friends brought in as witnesses to the spectacle. But over time it loses its verve, and we don’t really believe the characters would behave the way they do.
Writer/director Adam Christian Clark, making his first feature film, accomplishes something that’s like a mixture of mumblecore and Robert Altman. Altman was famous for his naturalistic, overlapping dialogue, so the audience felt like it was wandering around a party, diving in and out of conversations. Mumblecore, a loosely affiliated indie-film movement, involves improvised (or at least improvised-sounding) speech and organic, unadorned production values.
Clark combines the aesthetics, so the characters chatter over each other and interrupt one another, in a very realistic approximation of actual chaotic speech.
The half-dozen principal performers in “Caroline and Jackie” do wonderful jobs under Clark’s direction to never seem like they’re acting. Clark also has a fine sense for subtly — and not-so-subtly — manipulating the mood of their encounter, which all occurs on a single night.
That’s when the movie is at its best, when the audience has been lured into thinking the story will go one way and it suddenly morphs and goes sideways from our expectations — often in disturbing, and sometimes mesmerizing, ways.
The occasion of their meeting is Caroline’s (Marguerite Moreau) birthday. She arrives at the home of sister Jackie (Bitsie Tulloch) and Jackie’s boyfriend, Ryan (David Giuntoli), to celebrate, and immediately suggests they wrap up the extravagant dinner Jackie has just prepared and go out to a restaurant instead. They find their best friends waiting to give a surprise party for Jackie — even though her birthday is two months away.
After an abbreviated sup, they go back to the apartment where Caroline surprises Jackie by leading an intervention for her, citing Jackie’s anorexia and drug/alcohol abuse. Ryan and friends James (Jason Gray-Stanford) and Michelle (Valerie Azlynn) tell Jackie they’re most hurt that she concealed her problems from them. Perhaps most uncomfortable is Michelle’s new boyfriend, Charlie (David Fuit), who’s just met all these people and is about a decade younger to boot.
Hurt and flummoxed, Jackie runs off, leaving more questions than answers.
But then Caroline’s increasingly strange behavior calls everything that happened before into question. She attempts to seduce James and leads the group into frivolous activities (lighting fireworks) that hardly seem appropriate to the situation. Ryan finally tracks Jackie down and learns that she was hospitalized during college for Lyme disease, not an eating disorder.
Soon it becomes clear that while Caroline is constantly talking about other people’s problems, her main goal seems to be to draw more attention to herself. How much of what has been said and transpired is really true?
“Caroline and Jackie” is worth seeing for no other reason than the amazing performances, especially Moreau as the mysterious sister. Over time, I found myself less and less engaged by the film, as it becomes clear it is less about arriving at a meaningful conclusion than misdirecting the audience along the way.