King Jack Review: Trials of the Suburban Jungle

King Jack‘s greatest strength is its almost blinding realism. Throwing us into an Anywhere USA suburban town that’s seen better days, economically speaking, the film will immediately look familiar to anyone who spent any part of those pivotal teenage years in such a setting. The story here is simple and relatable. Jack (outstanding newcomer Charlie Plummer) is a rebellious loner who sneaks a beer while playing video games and spends a lot of his energy avoiding bullies. His introverted cousin (Cory Nichols) comes to stay with Jack and his family after his mother has a relapse in an undisclosed mental illness. His mom tries to force them to hang out, which they eventually do and get along better than expected. Anyone who’s seen one of the million summer coming of age indies knows this basic story. That’s fine though, as King Jack separates itself by taking a deep dive into what we perceive as masculinity.

Jack is a scrawny kid, no match for resident bully Shane (Daniel Flaherty). Yet they both share an aspiration to prove themselves as the baddest on the block. Shane’s attempts involve a lot of threats and physical abuse, but Jack’s are mostly stunted bravery with a devilish, Bart Simpson charm. He’s our hero here, and the film wants you to feel that way, as shown by its pseudo-epic scope. One of King Jack‘s most unique qualities is how it treats its adolescent drama. Writer-director Felix Thompson recognizes that Jack will outgrow his bad-boy habits but doesn’t approach the telling of his story as if that’s a certainty. Jack’s unknown future allows the film to make its more dramatic beats feel as they would when bullies and your first kiss are the most important things in your life. This film isn’t trying to force nostalgia upon you by showcasing childhood, though some parts of it will likely make watchers feel all warm in their own past experiences. King Jack takes the story of its main character seriously, avoiding the condescension many films like this fall into.

For that, this is a solid first effort for Thompson. Some of the character arcs get muddled toward the end, but this is a smart coming of age movie that brings something refreshing to the table. It’s realism plays into a scope that makes this small town story feel much larger simply because, to Jack, his world is still very large. There are raging hormones in both sexes, a difficult family life, and bullies vying for a form of masculinity that makes them seem small. Somewhere between all the self-induced cliches, King Jack poignantly and believably finds a place for Jack, one that may just define the man he becomes. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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