(Lisa is currently in the process of trying to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing all 40 of the movies that she recorded from the start of March to the end of June. She’s trying to get it all done by July 10th! Will she make it!? Keep visiting the site to find out!)
The 19th film on my DVR was Jack of The Red Hearts, which I recorded off of the Lifetime Movie Network on April 27th.
I have to admit that I was a little bit surprised as I watched Jack of the Red Hearts. While it seemed to have a typical Lifetime premise — a runaway fakes her identity and moves in with a troubled family — it didn’t feel like a typical Lifetime film. For one thing, the cast was made up of actors like Soul Surfer‘s AnnaSophia Robb, The Bling Ring‘s Israel Broussard, and the X-Men‘s Famke Janssen. None of these people are exactly big stars but they’re still not Lifetime regulars. While the premise may have been Lifetime-friendly, the portrayal of an 11 year-old autistic girl (played by Taylor Richardson) definitely seemed a bit more realistic than one would usually expect from a made-for-TV movie. Finally, there were more than a few occasions when it was obvious that some of the dialogue had been overdubbed, in order to make the language more appropriate for television.
So, I did some research and I discovered that Jack of the Red Hearts was not originally made for Lifetime. Instead, it’s an indie film that was directed by Janet Grillo and written by Jennifer Deaton, both of whom drew on their own experiences of raising an autistic child. Jack of the Red Hearts did the festival circuit in 2015 and even got a very limited theatrical release back in February.
Jack of the Red Hearts tells the story of Jack (AnnaSophia Robb), an 18 year-old high school drop out who is on probation. When we first meet Jack, she’s helping her younger sister, Coke (Sophia Anna Caruso), break out of foster care. AnnaSophia and Sophia Anna are both totally believable as sisters and their scenes together are so believable that you even forgive the fact that they’re named Jack and Coke. Jack wants to take care of her sister but she’s broke and she’s homeless. In order to rescue Coke from the foster home, Jack has to get a job and enough money to rent an apartment.
And what better way to get a job than by stealing someone else’s identity! After Jack sees some flyers asking “Are you good with children?,” she shows up at the home of Kay (Famke Janssen) and Mark (Scott Cohen). Jack claims that her name is Donna and that she’s the nanny that Kay previously hired over the telephone. Despite having neither training nor a high school degree, Jack is soon taking care of autistic Glory (Taylor Richardson).
Glory is nonverbal and sometimes violent and her family, while loving, struggles to adjust to not only her behavior but also their inability to understand what the world is like for her. (The film occasionally tries to show us the world through Glory’s eyes and it works a lot better than you might expect.) When Jack initially reacts to Glory’s behavior by snapping at her and occasionally getting rough (at one point, she slaps away Glory’s hand when Glory suddenly tries to grab food off her plate), you wince but at the same time, you understand Jack’s frustration. Richardson, who is not autistic in real life, fully commits herself to the role and the film deserves a lot of credit for not sentimentalizing her condition or its effect on her family. Unlike most Lifetime films, this one takes place in a frequently cluttered and chaotic house and Kay is portrayed as literally being on the verge of a neurotic meltdown.
Though it takes a while, Jack starts to care about Glory and finally, she even starts to make some progress with Glory. And again, it should be pointed out that the film does not portray Jack as a miracle worker, though Jack does watch The Miracle Worker on television at one point. The progress is slow but, the film says, it is progress and that’s the important thing. Jack also develops an attraction to Glory’s brother, Robert (Israel Broussard). Robert, however, is the only member of the family to suspect that Jack may not be telling the truth about who she is…
Because Jack of the Red Hearts was on the Lifetime Movie Network, I kept waiting for the scene in which Jack would either seduce Kay’s husband or try to kidnap Glory. Thankfully, that scene never came, though the film still has its share of melodramatic moments. Jack of the Red Hearts is, in many ways, a predictable film but it’s also an achingly sincere film and Robb, Broussard, Janssen, and especially Taylor Richardson all give excellent and empathetic performances.
This is a sweetly well-intentioned and bravely unsentimental film and definitely one to keep an eye out for.