Years ago King Jack premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and I was gonna see it. However, I didn’t have the money for these $16-$18 for film festival ticket prices. So, I figured I’d wait till it came in limited release or maybe even wide if it got picked up. However, things went silent. Fast forward about two years and I discover this is on Netflix.
Leading me to wonder, was King Jack maybe not worth the marketing to its distributor? Or could it just be Netflix bought it, I didn’t have the service, and that’s it?
The whole film takes place over the course of one weekend. During that, Jack (Charlie Plummer) finds himself having to watch over his little cousin Ben (Cory Nichols). Someone whose mom is going through something, and dad seemingly doesn’t want him, so he is with Jack’s family. Of which, it is just Jack, his mom Karen (Erin Davie), and brother Tom (Christian Madsen).
Now, his mom doesn’t play any significant role in the film but Tom does. You see, back when Jack’s dad was around, he sort of favored Jack. Due to that Tom would bully Jack and gave him this nickname Scab. A nickname which still follows him to this day. But it doesn’t end there. So it seems, Tom bullied this kid named Shane (Danny Flaherty), and now that Tom isn’t in school, Shane bullies Jack.
Which is a strong focus of the movie. What Tom did to Shane leading to what Shane does to Jack and Ben. Though, alongside that, there is a sort of romantic subplot featuring Jack’s crush Robyn (Scarlet Lizbeth) and this girl who may like Jack. Her name is Harriet (Yainis Ynoa) and though nothing is outright said, you can tell she kind of likes him.
The Whole Bullying Dynamic
I don’t know why, but it was so interesting to me to see how bullying went from generation to generation. If not person to person. For most of the movie you think Shane is a jerk to be a jerk, if not in retaliation for Jack being a douche. However, once it is introduced that Tom was popular and likely picked on Shane, it clicks. Especially when he makes it seem he legally might not suppose to be around him.
From there, you get that Shane is giving to Jack what Tom gave to him. He is putting in that trauma, that abuse, and taking it possibly too far. Yet, thanks to Jack likely doing as Shane, and not telling the cops to really press charges, the cycle continues.
Ben and Jack
With King Jack just capturing one weekend, it means there has to be a strong effort to get you into the characters. Which, in the beginning, Jack doesn’t accomplish. However, with the inclusion of Ben, once Jack warms up to him, you got a really good duo.
For one, Ben helps us understand Jack. Not just in the form of him being the one Jack opens up to and spills how Tom ruined his life. Ben sort of pushes the idea that Jack doesn’t really have anyone. For outside of when Jack tests Robyn, no one calls him, texts him, hits him up on social media, or anything. Pretty much, outside of his interactions with his family and some neighborhood girls, he is alone. So with Ben coming into his life, you see this weirdness.
What I mean by that is, you see Jack having to learn to look out for other people. We see him actually trying to open up, not lose someone when they are mad at him, and it is a struggle. I mean, I think after whatever happened to his dad, followed by Tom bullying him, then Shane, he sort of went into a shell. One he is slightly trying to crack open in pursuit of Robyn, but Ben just completely busts. Making it kind of unfortunate, outside of something to do, and a few stories, Ben doesn’t get much out of their relationship.
Crushes & Love at 15
Being that my favorite genre to read and watch are coming of age stories, naturally, the young romance in the film caught my attention. Especially since King Jack doesn’t feature well off kids. The kids we see are from middle-class, if not lower middle-class families. Fun for them is just hanging out with their friends, maybe stealing a few beers, and playing Truth or Dare. That is, unlike many a coming of age tale, especially if it is a YA novel adaptation, which usually features kids with money.
So to watch regular kids with regular problems like trying to be attractive, seeing if someone likes you, and yet not be too forward out of fear of rejection was interesting. Especially when it came to Jack since he is your usual “I’ve done a lot of stuff” before kind of kid. Though when you ask for names he goes to “You wouldn’t know them.” So to see him have his first kiss, what he thinks would be his first time having sex, was something. Especially since it wasn’t treated like this grand accomplishment or the main focus of the movie. It was just something that is part of life.
Though I would be remiss to not note Harriet as well. For while she doesn’t play a huge part in the movie, I must admit as a sort of love interest you almost wish this film was focused on them dating. For as much as Hollywood tries to achieve that girl next door vibe through starlets, Ynoa just has it. So here is hoping this isn’t the last we see of her.
On The Fence
It’ll Take You Awhile To Warm Up To Jack
A character does not have to be likable to be good. However, when expected to invest in a character for 90 some odd minutes, you want something to invest in. You either want to see them get their comeuppance, find love, or reach some kind of goal. With King Jack, however, the goal is to survive. Yet, in the beginning, you are led to believe Jack gets the crap beat out of him and is treated as he is because he is a jerk if not creep.
Let’s take Shane for instance. We meet Jack after he writes “C U Next Tuesday” on his garage. So when Shane comes to beat him up, it seems justified. For, if you are like me, you’re used to seeing bullied people as utter victims. So to watch him start off the movie being an instigator, and being bold, you think everything is very tit for tat.
But then comes the Robyn situation. He sends her pictures, first just of his bare chest and muscles, and she replies “Ew.” On top of that, she basically blows him off when he talks to her and one of her friends Holly (), makes it truly seem like he harasses her. Now, with him getting asked for a dick pic it can seem like maybe she likes him but is embarrassed by him in a way. Though, at the same time, it could just be material to embarrass him into leaving her alone.
But then the climax happens. Jack reveals to Ben his sob story about how and why Tom picks on him and then we see Robyn betray him. Thus turning the little fighter into a victim, if not a survivor. Which is what makes him someone you want to invest in. For it is in that moment, which strangely didn’t feel cheap, you realize he is just surviving the best way he can. Which, with no real friends willing to jump in and save him, he tries to get his victories or some sense of validation when he can.
Overall: Positive (Worth Seeing)
King Jack is a woodburning oven kind of movie, as is the character Jack. Neither will win you over at first. But, given time, they show you their worth. Jack does by helping you understand that he isn’t the cause of how people react to him, but often times is dealing with the trauma his brother left. That as much as he may seem like a creep, really he is just trying to find someone who may like and validate him. Not just in terms of being attractive, but validate his existence.
Hence the Positive label. While there aren’t Oscar-worthy performances here, this is definitely a building block movie. One which you can foresee being the film which helps define the leads at this point of their careers and led to bigger and better things. So to get in on the ground floor, check this out.