A father and daughter both experience an abrupt coming of age in The Ballad Of Jack And Rose, but writer/director Rebecca Miller has yet to find her peak. While this is better fleshed out than her last feature Personal Velocity, the hard digging is left to Daniel Day-Lewis as a misguided eco-warrior and co-star Camilla Belle who holds her own with a bewitching onscreen presence. Even so, Miller's scattered approach to storytelling means their duet still falls flat.
Jack and Rose exist separate from society on an abandoned commune, breeding an intense love that threatens to warp into something incestuous. Rose is awakening to womanhood and at the same time Jack is confronted with a terminal illness that forces him to reassess the choices he's made for her. Trying to correct the balance, he invites on-off girlfriend Kathleen (Catherine Keener) and her sons (Ryan McDonald and Paul Dano) to move in.
Belle deftly treads the line between innocence and wile as Rose jealously rebels - rubbishing her virginity, chopping off her hair and employing a venomous snake to kill her would-be stepmother. Meanwhile Day-Lewis lends humanity to a shockingly irresponsible man and Keener also gives a bold performance. However, it's her arrival along with McDonald and Dano that really dissipates the tension. Portraying a similar dynamic, Terrence Malick achieved a better sense of foreboding by containing his leads in 1973 drama Badlands. Miller is instead overtaken by soggy melodrama, which fails to move thanks to the distraction of Keener and co. Ultimately it's a ballad that fails to strike a universal chord.