Movie Review

Jasper Jones (2017) by Rachel Perkins

Original Name: Jasper Jones

Director:  Rachel Perkins

Runtime: 105 minutes

Language: English

IMDB link:

Rachel Perkins: Born in 1970 in Canberra, Australia. As the daughter of Charles Perkins, Rachel Perkins grew up in a politically active family. She regularly took part in demonstrations and dicussions on Aboriginal affairs. Perkins began her media career in Alice Springs working for the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA). In 1991 she moved to Sydney to work for SBS Television where she produced a number of documentaries including the award-winning Blood Brothers.

“I think the great thing about this book and certainly a large part of why I love it so much is that it wasn’t just about those big issues. It transcended the themes of racism, class, sexism and abuse to ultimately become a bigger story about empathy and understanding. Most importantly, it’s a ripping yarn, a terrific piece of entertainment, that doesn’t bash you over the head with issues but weaves them into great storytelling.”

The loss of innocence and the nature of prejudice play central roles in an Aussie-set “Jasper Jones”, so much so that people has compared it as an Australian answer to To Kill a Mockingbird. While “Jasper Jones” does evoke that classic novel and Stand By Me in the way the children has to come to term with many adult matters, this film adaptation gets pale in comparison with those films, mostly because it’s trying too hard at times and cramming too many plot points to the picture. The film begins when the bookish Charlie Bucktin (Levi Miller) receiving an unexpectedly visited from the titular character (Aaron L. McGrath) who begs for his help. We soon find out why, in the bush outside of Corrigan town is the dead body of a young girl, Laura Wishart, Jasper’s girlfriend. Jasper insists on hiding the corpse and finds out the real culprit. What follows in the week of Christmas includes a town search for a missing girl, Charlie’s journey to learn the town’s secrets and prejudices, and romance somewhere in between.

First, it’s the loss of innocence theme that plays out the most prominence throughout the film. Charlie is forced to come to term with adult’s messy viewpoint: the town’s own racist judgement towards Jasper and his best friend Jeffrey Lu’s family (Kevin Long), a Vietnamese immigrant family in the midst of Vietnam war (it’s set in 1969); he learns about his own parent’s issues (always magnificent Toni Collette and  Dan Wyllie), and many deep secrets in the town. It’s angry for sure, but it also blends the playful voice of an awkward teenager who is in the process of growing up and the more serious subject matters. Some of the moments, as a result, can be on-the-nose with its intention. The townspeople’s slashing out at Jeffrey’s family for example, feel overplayed and Jeffrey’s triumph on his cricket debut is equally cheesy and clunky (I like the idea behind it by all means, having an Asian immigrant be really good at the Commonwealth’s sport)

Second, prejudice and in a more specific sense, racism makes up for another main theme of “Jasper Jones”. This is more of a commentary to the era than it raise anti-racism issues but as a nature of prejudice, people tend to form an opinion even before they get to know the subject. Take Jasper, who has a reputation an outcast based on his mixed race appearance or Mad Jack Lionel who is feared by the townspeople. When Charlie actually meets them he knows that all the prejudice he has against them are untrue. The film pacing starts to suffer,  however, when it hastily pushes too many plot threads forwardo with little time to fully develop them. Most notorious sequence is the new year eve, when Charlie basically jumps between different plot threads in a span of a single night that it’s hard to know what points the film tries to get across.

Angourie Rice plays elegantly as Eliza, Laura’s sister and Charlie’s love interest (sort of), and she remains a femme fatale (of sort) who holds the key to open the mystery. On the “mystery” level “Jasper Jones” is just barely functional, but it’s for the service of putting Charlie and his coming of age in the centre. I can see why it has a widespread appeal. It’s a film that mixes wonderfully between the kid’s point of view with the more serious (and still somewhat relevant) subject matters. The acting is solid across the boards and most of the time it succeeds in drawing and maintaining our attention, although at the cost of more coherent plot.

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