Wistful coming-of-age tales are on shaky ground these days. Standing out amidst a procession of similar subject matter is a tricky maneuver but when it works, it works well. The debut feature from writer/director Felix Thompson, King Jack is a tender and exquisitely handled snapshot of a peripatetic 15-year-old’s travails over the course of one aimless summer weekend, played with genuinely remarkable deftness by Boardwalk Empire regular Charlie Plummer. While it bears an unmistakable hue of David Gordon Green or David Robert Mitchell in both style and substance, there is enough self-assured swagger in King Jack to suggest Thompson possesses a particular blend of ingenuity and nuance that warrants particular attention.
Born out of the Sundance Creative Producing labs, the film centres on a 48-hour period in the midsummer haze of the Hudson Valley. While ostensibly a clever way of offsetting the relatively modest running time, there is a sense in the opening third of being quite deliberately rushed through the pleasantries of introduction, with Jack’s daily routine of casual vandalism and self-pleasuring punctuated by hassling older brother Tom (Christian Madsen, son of Michael) and hassled mother Karen (Erin Davie).
Indeed it is Plummer’s future star turn as the eponymous anti-hero that really gives the movie its wings, gracefully held aloft by a similarly talented supporting cast that includes an excellent Daniel Flaherty as borderline-sociopathic bully Shane. Condemned to look after his cousin Ben (Corey Nichols), after his Aunt (Ben’s mother) has a nervous breakdown, the initially hesitant relationship between the two soon blossoms into the kind of grinning mutual respect that often precipitates male bonding rituals, and the duo spend much of the rest of the weekend either on the run from Shane and his cohorts or drinking decidedly dodgy-looking booze with girls.
While there are the obligatory sunset-tinged exteriors of working-class suburban America and the twinkly, acoustic-guitar-over-synth-pad scoring, Thompson’s movie covers the complexity and ambiguity of teenage rites of passage with an adroit skill that transcends the kind of run-of-the-mill indie fare saturating the genre. There is much to be impressed with here, and the film offers an inkling of meatier themes to come for Thompson, surely destined for future indie classic status.
King Jack is released in selected cinemas on 26th February 2015.
Watch the trailer for King Jack here: