Few would understand the trials and tribulations of living with a special-needs child, but as the mother of a son on the autism spectrum, director Janet Grillo (Fly Away) ably and unsentimentally immerses viewers in that demanding experience with Jack of the Red Hearts.
AnnaSophia Robb stars as “Jack,” a septum-pierced teenage runaway who, in a quick-cash attempt to gain custody of her younger sister, impersonates a caregiver to a family with an eleven-year-old autistic daughter named Glory (Taylor Richardson). Moderately streetwise but in over her head, Jack not only manages to fool the low-functioning girl’s perpetually frazzled mother (Famke Janssen), uncomfortably numb father (Scott Cohen), and frustrated teen brother (Israel Broussard), but also forms a bond with her young charge.
Apart from some hallucinatory p.o.v. shots — offered to illustrate Glory’s sensory issues — the film has the sterile look and feel of a made-for-TV melodrama, the situation and its lived-in details far more compelling than its blandly earnest plotting. There’s an unnecessary romantic interlude between Jack and the brother, and the inevitable crumbling of the delinquent’s façade — along with a denouement of good intentions and forgiveness — plays out exactly as it would on the Lifetime network.
Still, it’s rare that a drama shows such specificity with respect to the experience of coping with autism, and that sensitivity goes a long way.
Jack of the Red Hearts
Directed by Janet Grillo
Opens February 26 AMC Empire 25