Sweet Jane

1998


This film is the reason that film festivals exist. You get an unknown filmmaker and some relatively unknown actors and a quiet script with no hoopla or publicity and it makes you go into the theater with no pre-conceived notions. I absolutely loved it. I had tears in my eyes and I smiled at the surprising creativity of the plot several times during the screening.

Tony is a kid in a hospital fighting a recent bout of pneumonia, when in his rage at always being sick he spots Jane outside his window looking very much like an angel as she walks out of the hospital and into the sun of Los Angeles. He follows her, almost unconsciously, as she tries to score some heroin. She has just been diagnosed with HIV and she escapes the hospital to get a fix. She's out of money and must earn some stripping or walking the streets, all the while being followed by a skinny 15-year-old sickly boy. She is angered by him and chases him off, but he always returns. Tony's brother was a junkie and he knows how to make them feel better. He helps Jane in small ways at first--buying her a donut and coffee while she sleeps on the pavement, telling her which flattering clothes to shoplift. He is horrified by her life, but can't seem to leave her side. She hates him at first, then thinks of him as a diversion, then they become a sort of team.

I don't want to go any farther into the plot. Writer/director Gayton has taken an ugly subject, addiction and disease, and made it riveting. He creates moods onscreen that mirror the ones inside Jane's head. She gets a fix and the camera loses focus and spins around in a smooth circle, when she's overdosing, the cameral closes in on her with dizzying moves, her stripping scene is all loud music and slow motion. The scene in the strip club captures the seediness of the clientele perfectly. Mathis is completely believable as the college-graduate-turned-dope-whore. She is disheveled and gross-looking, but her eyes never lose their beauty or hope. She shows desperation, withdrawal, conniving, and compassion in equally honest ways. Gordon-Levitt shows more of the promise that he had in THE JUROR, where he and Anne Heche were the only things worth watching. He plays shy boy and desperate man very well. He's got big things ahead of him.

I found this film powerful and beautiful and hopeful.

Shown as part of Cinequest VIII, The San Jose Film Festival. Screenwriter and Director Joe Gayton and one of the producers were on hand for questions. I'm too shy to ask questions in front of a group so I went over afterwards and spoke to Gayton for awhile. I thanked him for a couple of plot twists that I felt were unique and let him know a couple of unbelievable scenes. He was gracious and said that the more times he sees it the more the fakeish scenes seem to jump out at him. He seemed genuinely happy to talk about it. I'm sure I didn't do a very good job communicating my feelings about this film. It really touched me. I hope it finds a distributor.

Jane ... Samantha Mathis [Pump Up The Volume, This Is My Life, The Thing Called Love, Little Women, How To Make An American Quilt, The American President, Broken Arrow]
Tony ... Joseph Gordon-Levitt [A River Runs Through It, "Third Rock From The Sun", The Juror]
Therapist ... Bud Cort [MASH, Harold And Maude, The Chocolate War, And The Band Played On]
Saleswoman ... Mary Woronov [Death Race 2000, Cannonball, National Lampoon Goes To The Movies, Eating Raoul, Scenes From The Class Struggle In Beverly Hills, Let It Ride, Dick Tracy]
Stan Bleeker ... William McNamara [Stealing Home, Copycat]
Edited by Jennifer Lane
Cinematography by Greg Littlewood
Written and Directed by Joe Gayton

Theater
83 minutes
Color
USA

This Was Written February 1, 1998



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