by Stephen Holden. Original post.
Ogden, a small city in northern Utah at the western edge of the Rocky Mountains, is
the bleak, snowy setting of Ami Canaan Mann’s third feature, “Jackie & Ryan.”
Ogden is the hometown of Jackie Laurel (Katherine Heigl), a struggling country-folk
singer who finds herself at a personal crossroads. Years ago, she fled Ogden,
determined never to return. In her one shot at a big-time music career, she made
enough money to buy a condominium in New York City, but it is her only asset.
In the throes of a bitter divorce, her career in eclipse, she has moved back to
Ogden with her daughter, Lia (Emily Alyn Lind), to live with her dour, tight-lipped
mother, Miriam (Sheryl Lee) while she figures out what to do next. A minor accident
in which she is struck by a pickup truck while absent-mindedly texting is witnessed
by Ryan Brenner (Ben Barnes), an itinerant busker with no fixed abode who has just
arrived in town on the back of a freight train. He insists on accompanying her home,
where he dresses her wound.
Financial anxiety weighs on all the characters in the movie, which compares the
hardships of everyday Americans in the post-recession era with the plight of
homeless migrants during the Great Depression. It uses a terrific score of bluegrass
and old-timey songs, many of them written by Nick Hans, to underscore the
connection and to evoke a fundamental American spirit epitomized by traveling
musicians with banjos, fiddles and guitars.
Initially invited to to stay for dinner, Ryan, who is bound for a recording session
in Portland, Ore., lingers for several days while he repairs a leaky porch roof and
attends an acoustic music festival with Jackie, who performs there. They soon slip
into a sweet affair with no strings attached. Because, in most films, drifters like Ryan
end up settling down or, if not, breaking hearts, you anticipate a cheap, sentimental
ending. But it is not to be, and the movie is much the better for it. Ms. Heigl
comfortably holds her own.
But Ryan is the soul of the film and its most developed character. A wary nomad
who hops trains, hitchhikes and travels light, he is an archetypal wanderer whose
folk-blues twang evokes a quintessential Americana. To some, he is a public
nuisance, shooed out of stores and off street corners. But, as the film makes clear, he
belongs to a free-spirited tribe of musicians whose members recognize one another
wherever they congregate, and spread joy when they play together.
Ryan’s philosophy boils down to a question that Jackie takes to heart and that
changes her life: “Where am I going next, and how am I going to get there?”