Jackie & Ryan

New York Times: In ‘Jackie & Ryan,’ a Handsome Drifter Guides the Way


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?”

LA Times: Jackie & Ryan a strong duet of searching musical souls


by Gary Goldstein. Original post.

The heartland drama "Jackie & Ryan" may prove too low-key and deliberately paced for less patient viewers, but distinct pleasures are to be had from this compactly shot film's easy rhythms, affecting tone and nicely modulated performances.

Writer-director Ami Canaan Mann ("Texas Killing Fields") takes a gentle, lyrical approach to her intimate story of a struggling single mother, Jackie (Katherine Heigl), who enjoys several wintry, romantic days with rail-riding busker Ryan (Ben Barnes) when he passes through her hometown of Ogden, Utah.

If not quite lost souls, Jackie and Ryan both need a jump-start. For one-time recording artist Jackie, it's about summoning the strength — emotionally and financially — to battle her estranged husband for custody of their young daughter, Lia (Emily Alyn Lind). Meanwhile, Ryan, a talented guitarist and folk singer, is searching for the confidence to write his own songs and prove his worth as an authentic artist.

Jackie and Ryan are at first drawn together by their mutual love of music. It gives way to a kind of port-in-a-storm physical attraction that's handled here with credibility and grace. A stirring third act effectively eschews Hollywood tropes.

Heigl is warmer and more equitable than usual; Barnes, soulful and sexy. They both do justice to performing the movie's array of folk songs, most of which are either pre-1930s standards or originals written by Mann, the film's composer, Nick Hans, or both. Folk rocker Fergus Daly provided three fine new tunes as well.

Clea DuVall as the wife of Ryan's elusive music cohort and Sheryl Lee as Jackie's wary mom are also strong, though Lee, just 12 years Heigl's senior, feels a bit young for the part.


"Jackie & Ryan"

MPAA rating: PG-13 for brief strong language, suggestive material.

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Deadline: Ami Canaan Mann on Jackie & Ryan


by Mike Fleming, Jr. Original post.

Since she is the daughter of iconic filmmaker Michael Mann, it seems surprising that director Ami Canaan Mann’s first screenplay would focus on a modern-day train-jumper musician who sneaks onto freight cars, armed with guitar and Sterno to cook and make coffee as he heads from city to city to busk on the streets and stay true to a century-old music and lifestyle.

That is the subject of Jackie & Ryan, a collision between the singer (Ben Barnes) and a married woman and former singer (Katherine Heigl) who is nearly broke after fleeing with her daughter from a loveless marriage in New York to go home to Portland with her litigious husband in hot pursuit.

This is Mann’s third film as a director, the most recent being the gritty thriller Texas Killing Fields. From the Coppolas on down, there have been enough cross-generational director success stories to make you wonder if there is something in the genes. Before her film premiered tonight in Venice, Mann spent some time with Deadline.

DEADLINE: Some of the shots you took of the landscapes as this musician traveled the trains from city to city, there was a certain visual artistry in the presentation of industrial architecture that reminded of a certain film director. If only I could put my finger on it.
MANN: Yeah. That’s funny.

DEADLINE: It this a genetic trait or something?
MANN: You know, I guess there must be, because I grew up in Indiana with my mother. Maybe it’s in the DNA; my sisters take photographs, too. I started out as a still photographer and was obsessed with construction sites, and buildings under construction, and train yards, and train tracks. My sisters, they do construction-oriented stuff too. So, I don’t know.

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DEADLINE: There is honesty to this depiction of a musician’s life without trappings, and the exhilaration and financial pressures that come from what you might call the hobo life. What sparked you to write this?
MANN: I came up with the story when I was in Austin, where I was invited to speak on a panel after my last film at South by Southwest. I was walking down the street, and heard this band play. The music reminded me of the sounds I heard when I was a kid growing up in Indiana. There’s a fiddler’s gathering there, which is something you see in the movie. I introduced myself to the banjo player, asked him a couple questions and then said, ‘I got to get your email because I’m going to write a story about you.’ He thought I was crazy, and then it took me a time before I eventually won his trust and could learn more about this traveler lifestyle that he and his band mates were living. He’s now a composer and a consultant in the movie. His name is Nick Hans. He inspired the main character. What struck me was that there was this group of people who were so tremendously dedicated to becoming better craftsmen at what they love doing. I respected that, and their lack of interest in being famous or being discovered or even being recorded. They supported themselves as best they could, but their objective was to just get better at the thing that they love to do.

DEADLINE: How do you plug yourself into a world that is so foreign to what most people understand?
MANN: I like a lot of research. It feels like, if I’m going into a world, I’m going to respect it and bring as much authenticity as I can. I spent time with Nick in Portland and Seattle, and eventually convinced him to take me train hopping because, as I told him, I didn’t want to be a liar. I wanted to have done it so I could know what it was. I’m glad that I did it.


DEADLINE: How good of a train hopper were you?
MANN: Nick said I’m not that bad. You basically just have to run and jump, and then you have to hide as the train pulls out so you don’t get arrested, because it’s illegal. He wouldn’t take me on the really dangerous route, so we went to a relatively easy route in Maine. There’s something neat about sleeping on a freight train in the middle of the night. I’m not sure I could have shot the film the way I did had I not had that pretty specific experience.

DEADLINE: You cooked and heated your coffee with the Sterno, like in the movie?
MANN: No, I did not eat out of a Sterno can, mostly you’re using that to make coffee. I didn’t get caught; I’m pretty tiny and can just tuck into these little spaces you hide in until you get out of the train yard, and then you’re good. I wanted to be sure the details felt genuine. What made me feel good was, when we shot the opening scene, Nick said it felt real to him.

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DEADLINE: The revelation here is Ben Barnes, who I thought was a singing star who took a movie role. Turns out he’s the kid from The Chronicles Of Narnia. He’s got that sympathetic vibe to him, but a growling voice that stands up to that style of music. Where’d you find him?
MANN: Amazing, right? I had the greatest time working with him. It’s a tricky role. I needed somebody with the physicality and the physical demeanor of men from the 1930s even. There’s a rugged, lean kind of manliness that reflects a way you live, and how you have to use your body. I needed someone with a heart of gold, it had to be clear from his face that he’s a good person or you don’t believe the story. And then that voice? He didn’t know how to play the guitar before we started, but I knew he had such a high bar he’d commit to getting to place on the guitar where we could reasonably sell he was playing on that level. He’s brilliant. That’s him singing and for several songs, him playing the guitar.

DEADLINE: How did you draw Katherine Heigl? She plays a vulnerable role that’s a welcome change from the studio romcoms.
MANN: Katherine’s mother had seen Texas Killing Fields and really liked it. We were going to do another film a year ago, but it didn’t come together. I sent her this script on a Friday and by Monday she said, ‘I’m in.’

DEADLINE: There is an appeal to the songs that reminded me of Inside Llewyn Davis. It would be great to come out of Venice with distribution, but what are you most proud of about Jackie & Ryan as you premiere it?
MANN: I love that we shot it in 20 days and for under $2 million, and now we’re here at Venice. There was a do-or-die sensibility, which was the theme of the movie itself. I wouldn’t have made the movie for any more money if I had it. It needed to be tough to make. Having Nick write some of the songs, and Katie and Ben sing their songs…maybe this is my bias but it all felt authentic from a musical standpoint, the way we captured that early American blues/folk sound.

Variety: Jackie & Ryan Venice Review


by Guy Lodge. Original post.

There was a time when a major studio might have made “Jackie & Ryan,” a wholesome, female-skewing heartland romance, with a Sandra Bullock in the lead and reaped the profits; today, it’s a wing-and-a-prayer festival film that marks Katherine Heigl’s introduction to independent cinema. That’s more of a knock on the shifting biases of mainstream audiences than it is on the ample cornball charms of Ami Canaan Mann’s third feature, which casts Heigl as a hard-up single mother and former country star who’s brought out of her shell by dreamy, drifting busker Ben Barnes. Mellow, digestibly sweet and embellished with lovely folk tunes, this modest bit of Americana reveals pleasing new sides of both leads, and merits a carefully targeted release from a nurturing distributor. 

The Venice Lido is a curious place to unveil a not-especially-arty film this cozily American in flavor and focus. Everything about “Jackie & Ryan” (filmed under the initial title “Your Right Mind”) seems geared more toward a Sundance berth, right down to its picturesque setting in the snow-dusted hills of Utah. Then again, the British-born Mann (daughter of Michael) has a friendly relationship with the Mostra, having premiered her sophomore feature, “Texas Killing Fields,” in the 2011 competition — widely deemed a premature honor for a genre pic of no great distinction. Bowing in the lower-pressure Horizons strand, the new film fortunately represents a significant improvement on “Fields”: Shooting at its most ambitious for the honest humanism of Martin Ritt, and at its least for the fuzzy comforts of Forest Whitaker’s “Hope Floats,” it’s an unpretentious work that at least seems comfortable with its frequent dips into cliche.

Some cliches, after all, are classics, as with the film’s introduction of lightning-fingered guitarist and singer Ryan Brenner (Barnes) as a cloth-capped train-hopper on the northbound cross-country line, carrying his dreams and little else in a battered guitar case. The spirit of manifest destiny, it would appear, is alive and well in tangle-haired folksters wishing to spread their music into the country’s farthest reaches. Ryan puts his roving on pause, however, to touch down in the Christmas-card town of Ogden, Utah, the home of a former collaborator — who, as the man’s patient wife (Clea DuVall, underused but affecting) informs him, has recently decided to go wandering himself. One can practically hear the film sighing over musicians: can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em, but they sure as heck can’t live with you.

Another case study for that theory is Jackie Laurel (Heigl), a one-time recording sensation whose life of limos and New York condos has recently downshifted to one of maxed-out credit cards, desperate job-hunting and a room in her mother’s house. Ogden, she tells her unconvinced, uprooted daughter Lia (Emily Alyn Lynd) is “a nice place to be from” — which may sound like cold comfort, but it’s a sentiment typical of the film’s rustic optimism. Quite how or why Jackie’s career has tumbled so drastically is never made explicit in Mann’s script, though it would appear that an expensive impending divorce and toxic custody battle for Lia has much to do with it. It’s not exactly the best time to fall hard for a homeless singer-songwriter on his way to Portland, but she’s powerless to resist Ryan’s sculpted almond eyes and warm, whiskeyed croon when she spots him strumming on the street. A meet-cute mishap culminates in her taking him home for dinner; against the advice of her mother Miriam (a tart Sheryl Lee), he stays the night, and then another, and then another.

Nothing of great surprise or consequence happens in “Jackie & Ryan,” which doesn’t go out of its way to suggest that the two title characters — attractive and appealingly matched as they are — are necessarily soul mates. Rather, they appear to offer each other the company they need at simultaneously vulnerable points in their lives. In this and several other respects, Mann’s film recalls John Carney’s pair of marvelous muso romances, “Once” and this year’s “Begin Again,” though it lacks their bittersweet resonance. Nor does it employ its songs (several of them wood-smoked folk standards) to quite such deft, revealing narrative effect, pleasant as they are to hear. The film’s climactic musical number, however, is an original: Written by Ryan (and, in the real world, by the film’s composer Nick Hans) to reflect both his and Jackie’s trajectories, it’s a gruffly sentimental piece that delivers the required emotional finish.

Barnes and Heigl, who last shared screen space in the execrable romantic comedy “The Big Wedding,” make for a happier union here, striking enough sparks off each other to sustain a gentle, PG-rated chemistry. Heigl’s natural flintiness has come off as rigid or even chilly in some of her past starring vehicles, but the lower-key demands of Mann’s film bring out her intelligence and responsiveness as a performer. British thesp Barnes, his male-model features shamelessly lapped up by the camera from the opening frame onwards, is also as limber and likeable as he’s yet appeared on screen, his native accent convincingly hidden behind a middle-American husk. Both stars also do their own impressive singing, their voices imperfect but characterful enough to carry the film’s rootsy soundtrack.

Non-musical techs are all serviceable. Duane Manwiller’s lensing can be too dark in some of the interior scenes, but he knows his way around the woozy, streaked sky of a Utah sunrise — one of many familiar romantic indulgences in “Jackie & Ryan” for which Mann makes, and owes, no apology.


Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Horizons), Aug. 30, 2014. Running time: 90 MIN.

Production: A Highland Film Group presentation of a Hassell Free production in association with 120dB Films, Electric Shadow Company, Main Street Films/982 Media, Xantara Film Capital, Crema Family Office. (International sales: Highland Film Group, West Hollywood.) Produced by Molly Hassell, Ami Canaan Mann, John Jencks, Jon Avnet. Executive producers, Peter Graham, Stephen Hays, Rodrigo Garcia, Arianne Fraser, Delphine Perrier, David Wulf, Jay Taylor, Alexa Seligman, Todd Labarowski, C.C. Hang, Harrison Kordestani, Arti Modi, Jay Modi, Anja Gohde, Ksana Golod. Co-producers, Stephanie Pon, Glen Trotiner. Co-executive producers, Berry Meyerowitz, Lawrence Greenberg, Alexis Bishop.

Crew: Directed, written by Ami Canaan Mann. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Duane Manwiller; editor, Mako Kamitsuna, Lauren Connelly; music, Nick Hans; music supervisors, Hans, Dawn Sutter Madell; production designer, Diane Millett; set decorator, Brian Lives; costume designer, Mona May; sound, Paul Maritsas; visual effects supervisor, John Attard; visual effects, Rain VFX; stunt coordinators, Kevin Chase, Brian Finn; line producer, David Wulf; associate producers, Jake Wasserman, Datari Turner; assistant director, Glen Trotiner; casting, J.C. Cantu, Rick Pagano.

With: Ben Barnes, Katherine Heigl, Emily Alyn Lynd, Clea DuVall, Sheryl Lee, Jeff Hanson, Ryan Bingham, Lyle Werner, Adam Dietlein, Terence Goodman, Joey Miyashima, Nell Gwynn.

The Hollywood Reporter: Jackie & Ryan


by Deborah Young. Original post.

THE BOTTOM LINE Director Ami Canaan Mann hits her stride in a homey but surprisingly enjoyable ride through honest old mid-America.

Katherine Heigl and Ben Barnes play musicians who meet by chance in small-town America

After bringing her police procedural Texas Killing Fields to Venice competition three years ago, writer-director Ami Canaan Mann returns in the Horizons section with a small, beautifully modulated work about recession-strapped America and the power of a fortuitous meeting to alter the course of two musicians’ lives for the better. The sunny, soap-and-water characters and thoroughly upbeat message may not be the stuff great films are made of, but in Jackie & Ryan the modesty of the story, the simple story-telling and honest emotions all come together in a satisfying whole. As a bonus, rollicking period music brings a smile every time somebody pulls out a banjo. The two attractive headliners should help locate audiences:  Katherine Heigl of Knocked Up and Grey’s Anatomy and Ben Barnes (Prince Caspian in The Chronicles of Narnia, though his frustrated musician role in Killing Bono is perhaps more relevant). The quality is there for additional festival exposure, even if one feels the whistle of the small screen blowing at the end of the line.

Ryan (Barnes) is a traveling musician, a happy-go-lucky drifter who romantically train-hops around the country like it was the Depression instead of the recession. His carefully crafted music also nods to pre-1930s folk tunes. A lyrical opening sequence communicates his sense of joy and freedom riding the rails through America’s magnificent plains and mountains, all the way to Ogden, Utah. Blink, and you will miss a quick glimpse of the American flag flying proudly as a Bruce Springsteen industrial landscape flashes by the moving train. It's subtle, but it's there.

While busking on the street with a violinist friend, he meets self-possessed single mom Jackie (an ash blonde Heigl).  She too had a musical past as a successful pop singer signed with a record company, but that seems to be another lifetime. Right now, she’s preoccupied with a messy divorce and a battle for child custody. Their brief love story could hardly be simpler, but it works because of the actors' light touch and the extreme low key in which it all plays out. Mann hits her stride using a fast, delicate style that describes ordinary people without tears or self-pity or great drama. A funeral scene only a few minutes long manages to be affecting.

The small-town setting with its schools, supermarkets and fiddling contests is pure, unadorned Americana, where a general shortage of cash afflicts everyone. Duane Manwiller's camerawork doesn’t waste time idealizing the vast, empty, snow-dusted plains of Utah, nor does Mann pretend the locals are any better than the New Yorkers Jackie left behind. Still, as she tells her dubious daughter (Emily Alyn Lind), it wasn't much fun growing up in Ogden, but it’s a nice place to be from.

Street musician Nick Hans wrote most of the tuneful songs Barnes and Heigl sing in the film, based on traditional melodies.

Production companies: Hassell Free Productions in association with 120dB Films, Electric Shadow Company, Mainstreet Films, the Crema Family Office, Xantara Film Capital
Cast: Katherine Heigl, Ben Barnes, Emily Alyn Lind, Clea DuVall, Ryan Bingham, Sheryl Lee
Director-Screenwriter: Ami Canaan Mann
Producers: Molly Hassell, Ami Canaan Mann, John Jencks, Jon Avnet
Director of photography: Duane Manwiller
Production designer: Dianne Millett
Costume designer: Mona May
Editors: Mako Kamitsuna, Lauren Connelly
Music: Nick Hans
Sales:  Highland Film Group
No rating, 90 minutes.