"The Ballad of Jack and Rose" seems to want to be weighty and ephemeral at the same time. It wants to talk about what stays and what goes, about holding on and letting go, about how difficult it is to have and to hold ideals in a world not just of shifting values but also of natural evolution. But it's somehow out of sync with its own rhythms and moods, thus its impact is much slighter than might be expected from an idea approached with intelligence and insight by Rebecca Miller and conveyed by as talented a clutch of actors as any director might wish for.
The fact that Day-Lewis is Miller's husband and that Miller is the daughter of famed playwright Arthur Miller somehow never slips from one's mind watching the film. That awareness destroys the process even as it informs it. A story about holding firm to beliefs, in the face of both mundane and harsh opposition, and about bonds that must eventually be loosed between father and daughter for each to survive with decency and dignity, seems too obvious a choice for a plotline, however sensitive and painterly the images created to tell it.
The tale -- set in the most obvious locale: an island -- is about the unraveling of the father's life and the inevitable awakening of a daughter kept over-innocent by the protected environment in which he's raised her. Intruding on what is initially depicted as the bliss of this world, despite its unnatural undercurrents, is the woman the father needs for sexual and emotional reasons, and the baggage of her life, which includes two maladjusted sons and a tag-along worldly teen. As screen presences, Catherine Keener as the sexy woman, Ryan McDonald and Paul Dano as her sons, and Malone as their young friend are ideal match-ups against Day-Lewis and Camilla Belle as the father-daughter combo. Additionally, Bridges, though his role is little more than a cipher, does all he can to bring complexity to the scenes when his property builder comes face to face with Day-Lewis' elitist environmentalism.
The actors all reveal their substance, and there is some satisfaction in watching that, even when the world they inhabit seems a mere shadow-play thesis. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Camilla Belle, Catherine Keener, Paul Dano, Ryan McDonald, Jena Malone, Jason Lee and Beau Bridges. Directed and written by Rebecca Miller. Produced by Lemore Syvan. An IFC release. Drama. Rated R for language, sexual content and some drug material. Running time 108 min.