“Julie And Jack” : The Roots Of Madness

Posted: May 29, 2011 in movies
Tags: , , , , , , ,

After being bowled over like so many others by the utterly unique singularity (in both the good and bad sense of the term, naturally) of writer-director James Nguyen’s Birdemic : Shock And Terror, I immediately set out to find his earlier show-on-video no-budget efforts in order to observe his —- uhhhmmm — creative development, shall we say, first hand. To my dismay, his 2005 effort, Replica, is still unavailable in any format whatsoever — it’s not on DVD, you can’t stream it through Netflix, nothing apart from a handful of clips on YouTube can be found. Maybe some enterprising soul will put the whole thing up on there in ten-minute chunks or something, but as of yet this service to humanity remains unperformed.

That being said, I was more than pleasantly surprised that the mid-level-software-salesman-turned-cut-rate-auteur’s debut effort, 2003’s Julie And Jack, is available both on DVD (I hear it’s a full-frame stereo presentation with no extras to speak of at all, but not having seen it this way myself can’t fairly comment on its technical specs) and on Netflix instant watch, so I plopped myself down in front of the computer a couple weeks ago, kicked back, and mentally prepared myself to be, if not amazed, at least flabbergasted.

On the whole, I wasn’t disappointed. Julie And Jack is definitely a rougher and more unpolished (if you can believe such a thing is possible) effort than Birdemic, but it’s every bit as jaw-droppingly insane in its own way.

Our story revolves around a (get this) mid-level software salesman in Silicon Valley (they always say write what you know) named Jack Livingston (portrayed in typically wooden Nguyen style by Justin Kunkle) whose performance at work is bottoming out after an unhappy breakup. In order to alleviate his loneliness and hopefully save his job, Jack decides to go trolling for love on the internet and after cruising around the various dating sites for a time meets a fetching young lady named Julie Romanov (Jenn Gotzon, who also fits the soon-to-be-developed Nguyen pattern of having female leads who are considerably more competent in the acting department than their male counterparts). Julie’s got it all, it seems — she’s pretty, witty, sharp, interesting (as far as these things so — remember that this is James Nguyen dialogue she’s forced to speak, after all, though in this case he’s also assisted by a writing partner by the name of Joe Bright), and to top it all off she’s a world-class computer genius who works on artificial intelligence systems. Can’t say I blame Jack for hitting the online matchmaker sites since Julie’s definitely not the kind of girl you’re likely to meet at a bar.

Soon, Jack is outperforming everyone else at work, winning every sales contest in the book, and even managing to close deals with the most dead-end, tight-wad customers that nobody else wants to deal with. Clearly his budding romance is having a positive influence on every aspect of his life. There’s just one big sticking point, though — Julie is hesitant in the extreme (to put it mildly) about meeting Jack in real life, and their affair is strictly conducted via online communication only.

The good news is that at some point, for some unknown reason, Jack’s (unseen, believe me) charm apparently wins her over and soon they’re going out to eat, enjoying long walks in the park, taking in the various Bay Area sights, and even attending fancy-dress parties together. Yes, folks, love is in the air!

But then something strange happens — Julie tells Jack, right out of the blue, that she can’t see him anymore, and right around the time of this bombshell (relatively speaking, I realize) we’re treated to something I never thought I’d see in a James Nguyen film — a genuinely competently-delivered plot surprise, about which I’ll keep my mouth shut other than to say that it explains (for reasons other than budgetary) why all of Jack n. Julie’s “dates” take place in front of cheesy green-screen backdrops.  I will now duly shut up about that, but let’s just say that it’s handled in a very nonchalant, conversational manner that actually works pretty well.

Anyway, soon Jack’s hot on her trail, speaking to Julie’s old college roommates, one of her former professors (Nguyen himself), her ex-boyfriend, former business colleagues, the works — when a girl won’t answer any of your emails, you just gotta take matters into your own hands, it seems. In any case, perhaps the most surprising thing about Jack’s quest is just how unsurprising everything he learns is — our gal Julie is everything she claims to be. In fact, if anything she’s sold herself a bit short, because not only is she a revolutionary technological visionary, she’s apparently rich as hell, too.

So what gives?  Why the sudden cold shoulder? It’s only when Jack finally tracks down her parents (her mom, by the way, is played by Tippi Hedren, cementing Nguyen’s reputation as a Hitchcock devotee in his very first film) that he learns the horrible truth about why Julie won’t — in fact, can’t — continue their relationship. Will Jack have the strength to love her anyway despite learning this (by now obvious) fact, will he walk away, will it all end in tears, or will Jack win her back only to have it end in tears anyway?

If you chose the final option, you are the winner of — well, nothing, but you got it right. But again, I’ll clam up on the exact details of how and why it all plays out like it does just because you really should see this flick for yourself.

Here, then, lies the seed from which a mighty oak will grow. Julie And Jack has all the classic Nguyen elements that have made him the self-proclaimed “master of the romantic thriller” (actually, that should be Romantic Thriller TM, since the ever-enterprising Mr. Nguyen has actually trademarked the phrase) : horribly amateurish acting, especially from the guys, sound drop-outs left and right, characters chasing the so-called Silicon Valley Dream (that phrase should be trademarked as well — you’re dropping the ball, James), stilted and unrealistic dialogue, almost uncomfortably dispassionate love affairs, ludicrously bad “special” effects, soon-to-be-Nguyen regulars like Damien Carter and Patsy van Ettinger, cringe-worthy dialogue, and an unintentionally absurd plot that actually achieves the truly rare distinction of completely accidental surrealism. It’s all here, folks, and the line that goes from Julie And Jack in 2003 to Birdemic : Shock And Terror in 2008 is about as straight as it gets. Nobody other than James Nguyen could — or would even want to — make this film.  It’s in no way trepidatious or timid, to be sure — Nguyen came charging right out of the gate with his first film and told the story he wanted to tell in the only way he could, given the severe limitations in terms of budget and overall ability he’s always been saddled with. Like Birdemic, it’s no stretch at all to call this a visionary work.

Let’s just remember that not all visionaries are geniuses.

Comments
  1. Cary Brown says:

    Hi, you’ve probably ready tracked it down by now, but Replica is now available on Amazon Prime Video.

    • Ryan C. (trashfilmguru) says:

      I noticed that the other day but haven’t had time to watch it yet, looking forward to checking it out!

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