Awfully Good: Jack
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Stars: Robin Williams, Diane Lane, Bill Cosby
The story of the world's oldest, hairiest ten year old.
JACK came on TV a few weeks ago and I sat down with the full intention of ripping it apart. Though I wasn't much older than the title character when it was released, I remember the movie being absolutely destroyed by critics and audiences alike. (No joke—our local video store replaced the "J" on every VHS box so it said "Francis Ford Coppola's HACK.") So color me surprised when it ended up being…not bad at all. Rarely do I defend a movie in this column for NOT being awful, but it seems like a fitting tribute to Robin Williams to do just that.
Regardless of quality, JACK is definitely a bizarre choice for pretty much everyone involved. It's obvious why the studios wanted it ("Robin Williams playing a child? Greenlight it and meet me in my money pit!"), but what made Francis Ford Coppola—director of THE GODFATHER, THE CONVERSATION and APOCALYPSE NOW—sign on to a sappy coming-of-age dramedy about a ten year old stuck in the body of a middle aged man? I'm guessing the answer is a paycheck, so it's not hard to see why people were piling on to this movie based on the premise and talent attached.
Once you get over that, however, I think you'll find JACK is a solid movie about growing up. At worst it's an innocuous riff on BIG and other similar stories, but at best it has some emotion and thought behind its gimmicky ideas. It also truly seems to understand childhood and not some scripted Hollywood idea of it. (I too had a treehouse where we read Penthouse and lit our farts on fire.) The science behind Jack's quick-aging condition is shaky, but all of that is completely overshadowed by Robin Williams' performance. Having Williams play a kid may not seem like a stretch, but the actor completely embraces all the mannerisms, maturity and thought processes of the character. You forget after a few minutes that he isn't actually a ten year old, which is rather remarkable. There's also a solid supporting cast, including a great turn from Bill Cosby as Jack's mentor, a young Jennifer Lopez as his teacher and Diane Lane as the coolest, hottest mom in film history. How cool is Diane Lane in this movie? When she's not playing laser tag with her son, she's totally cool with her husband working as a photographer for the world's only pornographic produce catalog. (This is literally all we know about Jack's dad, by the way.)
There is an awkward mix of lowbrow humor and heavy-handed schmaltz at work in JACK, but Robin Williams excels at both and ties everything together. Slapstick and fart jokes may be odd material for Coppola, but it's totally appropriate for the story and the characters. And I'm not a sappy guy, but even the overly melodramatic stuff—from the butterfly that dies right as Jack confronts his mortality to the Bryan Adams song that runs during the credits—doesn't ruin the movie for me. It fits the film that Coppola, for whatever reason, decided to make.
The overachieving ending does lay it on rather thick, but it also give us this great and sadly poignant speech from Robin Williams:
"Please, don't worry so much. Because in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting. And if you're ever distressed, cast your eyes to the summer sky when the stars are strung across the velvety night. And when a shooting star streaks through the blackness, turning night into day—make a wish and think of me. Make your life spectacular. I know I did."
Some of the film's most immature moments.
Farts, Bill Cosby and Jack's graduation speech.
Robin Williams' chest hair cannot be contained.
RIP Robin Williams. Thanks for all the laughs.
Take a shot or drink every time:
- Someone farts or discusses farts
- Jack is called a giant
- Jack's shoes are untied
- Jack misunderstands something adult that's going on
- Someone says "Jack's mother"
- There's a BACK TO THE FUTURE reference!