Hollywood pariahdom has many causes but one unmistakable effect. The pariah struggles on, working in smaller and smaller films until oblivion sets in, or cable TV offers a resurrection.
Katherine Heigl diva-bombed her way off the acting A-list. But she’s still hanging in there, still straining to find that moment of reinvention, that film role that showcases her and shows us why she should be allowed back in the champagne room.
“Jackie & Ryan” is a noble effort in that direction. She plays a former singer who flees, with her daughter, to Ogden, Utah, her hometown. She might find new purpose and new love in the person of hobo busker Ryan. And that’s where this Heigl vehicle becomes somebody else’s “comeback.”
Ben Barnes, not-quite-forgotten since his “big break” as Prince Caspian in the Narnia movies, sings and plays guitar on street corners and generates all the goodwill in writer-director Ami Canaan Mann’s drama. His story is more interesting, his take on a life without encumbrances or possessions more appealing and arresting.
We meet Ryan first, riding the rails into Ogden. He’s looking for a picker-pal, the elusive “Cowboy,” a boon companion for his trip to a Portland folk festival, inexplicably being held in the winter.
But Cowboy is nowhere to be found. His girlfriend (Clea Duvall) and their baby watched him follow a restless urge, hopping a freight for somewhere else.
Jackie hears Ryan singing on the street, compliments him, and moves on. But he comes to her rescue after she’s hit by a car. Out of guilt, she invites him to dinner where he meets her daughter and we start picking up the fragments of her story.
Sparks fly from her mom, played by Sheryl Lee of “Twin Peaks” fame. Ryan is “literally a homeless person.” He needs to realize “It’s not the ’60s.” Mom gives this interloper the bum’s rush. But Ryan finds ways to be useful, and Jackie lets her guard down and lets us in on her former life.
It’s a slight story, romanticized to the point the edges are rubbed off of “Why can’t these two nice people get together?”
Barnes has a pleasant singing voice, and is an utterly convincing busker — aside from being Hollywood handsome with Hollywood hobo grooming. Mann gives him performance showcases, and quiet moments, picking a guitar he can’t afford in a store that indulges musicians in his circumstances.
Heigl’s performance is more brittle, kind of her signature but also required in playing a woman going through a divorce. She has rarely given a bad performance, even if the films she picked were failures. She shows vulnerability, and also has a decent singing voice, but her duet with Jackie’s daughter (Emily Alyn Lind) is spoiled by being over-produced, disembodied.
So she took a role that required a tiny dose of guts, and then polished her vocals to the point where her track doesn’t sound live, or even like her. Ask any pariah before her, that’s no way to mount a comeback.
Cast: Katherine Heigl, Ben Barnes, Sheryl Lee, Clea Duvall
Credits: Written and directed by Ami Canaan Mann. A Mainstreet release.
Running time: 1:26