The premise of Jack and Diane is ripped straight from an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: as young Diane finds her budding sexuality aroused by new girlfriend, Jack, her desire manifests itself in the form of a dream werewolf that appears only to the two of them. But where Buffy found ample narrative meat in finding vivid expression for any given teenage demon, Jack and Diane treats its horror interludes as part of a greater kitchen-sink logic. As in, everything but: writer-director Bradley Rust Gray has put together a coming-of-age/drama/horror hodgepodge that’s woefully confused.
Diane (Juno Temple) is in New York for mere hours when she meets and falls in love with Jack (Riley Keough). But upon hearing that Diane is heading to France for college in two weeks, Jack threatens to reject Diane outright. The conventional plot proves a poor match for the werewolf metaphor, which in turn doesn’t tap into the nature of Jack and Diane’s relationship. Temple and Keough aren’t portraying a passionate all-consuming two-week affair, but a gradual courtship between first loves that dovetails delicately with a tragically looming time limit.
The werewolf sequences make up a very small portion of the film, but their fantastical nature is so jarring and incongruous that they overshadow the rest of the film. More fundamentally, the conceit betrays a lack of trust in the characters’ wants and needs. The limited shelf life of Jack and Diane’s relationship more accurately translates to a claustrophobic tunnel vision: they’re able to see nothing but each other, and their mutual watchfulness holds interest for being unsustainable.
Temple and Keough make an attractive pair, convincing as summer teens with nothing better to do than moon at each other, but their material leaves them little to work with. Particularly frustrating is the movie’s conception of Jack. She’s given a few butch signifiers instead of any consistent character traits, and all of her actions are prefaced with an I’m-not-usually-like-this disclaimer. And in a reductive categorization, she is half-heartedly defined in opposition to Diane’s femme. Jack and Diane relies too heavily on dreaming up external pressures to raise the stakes for the lovers, forgetting that relationships are frightening enough on their own.