Venice Film Festival: Jackie & Ryan

Directed by Ami Canaan Mann
Starring Katherine Heigl, Ben Barnes and Clea Duvall

by Ruth Thomson

At the heart of Jackie & Ryan, the third feature film from director Ami Canaan Mann (daughter of Michael), is a simplicity and warmth that is surprisingly compelling. It’s a modest story of day to day life and struggle, simply stated and subtly performed against a soundtrack of Americana that’s as central a character as the two leads.

Ryan (Ben Barnes) is a drifter, hiding out in freight trains with nothing more than his pack and guitar in his travels across the mountainous and icy plains of Utah and beyond. Busking in the streets of Ogden his eyes bashfully meet those of Jackie (Katherine Heigl) – a no nonsense single mum whose own successful musical past is now buried deep under financial woes, an imminent custody battle with her Manhattan ex, and the fact that she’s back in her hometown – a sleepy world of plaid shirts, fiddle competitions, and oversized knitwear. Days later an accident in the town centre bring Jackie and Ryan face to face, and so begins a relationship that blossoms (as much as possible in their chilly recession hit surroundings) into something based on mutual support and bound together by their shared musical language.

The honesty of their romance resonates largely thanks to their fresh and naturalistic performances. Barnes (formerly Prince Caspian in The Chronicles of Narnia) inhabits Ryan with a gentle goodness (and an excellent accent) whilst Heigl, of Grey’s Anatomy fame, seems to be making an effective bid to escape her Rom-Com past with this quietly dignified but powerful performance. A hint of the spirit of Inside Llewyn Davis hovers distinctly above the streets of Ogden and its surrounding expanse, but Mann’s lightness of touch keeps Jackie & Ryan real, a world away from the comic book Coens. It’s as simple as the title, and all the more powerful for it.

Our interview with director Ami Canaan Mann.


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