By: Jolie Featherstone
Sabrina Jaglom’s Jane is a drama-thriller that grapples with tough themes such as grief, isolation, and cyber-bullying within an upper-class prep-school.
Olivia (Riverdale’s Madelaine Petsch) is a high-achieving, Type-A, high-school senior. Her neighbour, Izzy (musician Chloe Bailey of Amazon Prime’s Swarm), is a charismatic, popular classmate of Olivia’s at the same school. Olivia and Izzy used to be best friends as part of a tight-knit trio. The trio was completed by Jane (Chloe Yu). Jane recently took her own life, shocking her friends and the school community.
While the school is still reeling from the tragic death, Olivia and Izzy have grown distant. Olivia is isolating herself from her family, friends, and educators. She is laser-focused on getting into Stanford University, and thus puts all of her energy into her studies, volunteering, and debate club. She leads a carefully curated schedule in service of her Stanford application. It was her, Izzy, and Jane’s plan to go to Stanford together, and Olivia holds fast to this dream.
When a new student enters the debate club, Olivia’s position as team captain (and teacher’s pet) is threatened, thus rocking the boat of her diligently maintained academic monarchy. Shaken, Olivia goes to Izzy to vent, and the two hatch a scheme. From there, Olivia begins to give in to her more sadistic impulses, and embarks on a social media rampage against those who interfere with her goals. As Olivia becomes increasingly wrapped in her web of lies, her paranoia grows.
Jane is reminiscent of Thoroughbreds (2017) and Afterschool (2008) with the sharp look at social media and false identities like in Ingrid Goes West (2017). The film shows how those struggling in the whirlpool of loneliness and self-doubt can become desperate. Anonymously taking over the social media account of your deceased best friend to cyber-attack others? Fair game for someone whose perspective has become skewed.
Petsch and Bailey cultivate good chemistry. Their interactions feel right for two previously close friends who are cautiously rebuilding ties over a bed of grief and social pressures. Their task as actors isn’t easy – the nuances of teenage friendships are complex. Yet they handle the material with skill.
The tone of the film lacked consistent tension throughout. This film’s story could have been a veritable crescendo of anxiety a la Whiplash (2014). Yet, the characters are written in such a way that they don’t demonstrate a high degree of tension – from the leads’ fear of being caught or of being morally wrong, the student body of being targeted, the faculty of finding the culprits, and certainly not the parents – who, perhaps intentionally, are largely removed from the burgeoning situation at their children’s school. Most of the anxiety in Jane comes by way of the thriller elements. As Olivia’s panic increases, she begins to see Jane everywhere – silently watching her and guiding her in her vengeful actions. Chloe Yu is effective as the mysterious Jane. The finale of the film is satisfying (in a wrenching way) but lacks a wallop due to the uneven tension throughout the film.
Jane’s concept is intriguing. Its blend of drama and thriller elements was done deftly. However, it lacked a certain level of suspense that would have elevated the film overall. Jane is an observant story of societal pressures, grief, and loneliness within the context of our digital lifestyles. It provides a good and necessary reminder that we need to show up for people with compassion and empathy. And, perhaps, a warning that attempts to over-exert control may lead to rewards, but at what cost?
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