Jack of the Red Hearts

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Jack of the Red Hearts Movie Poster Image
Good acting in thought-provoking but predictable drama.
  • PG
  • 2016
  • 94 minutes

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Kids say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Positive messages about the importance of honesty and family -- and how good intentions don't cancel out unethical behavior (of which quite a bit is shown).

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jack is a caring sister who wants to help, even though she goes about it in a deceitful way (she lies, commits fraud/steals someone's identity, and could have done more harm than good). But she also learns her lesson and faces consequences. Glory's family loves her, but the mom is also desperate for her to be labeled high-functioning and attend a particular private school. Robert does the right thing when he finds out the truth. Not a lot of diversity among the cast/characters.

Violence

Glory occasionally moves her body in a way that could harm her (hitting her head repeatedly against something, thrashing on the ground, climbing on top of trees/the roof). A couple of times, Jack holds Glory roughly and even pushes her/ pinches her when she's being aggressive. Another time, Jack patiently allows Glory to throw her plate of food around as she tries to get Glory to eat with utensils, sitting at the dinner table.

Sex

Several mentions of how "hot" Jack/Donna is, and at least three kisses. Glory's parents kiss passionately and reconnect romantically in the bedroom -- it's clear that they make love, but it happens off camera. A character makes a joke about something sounding like masturbation (without saying the word). A young guy bugs his friend about whether he's hooked up with the hot babysitter.

Language

Frequent use of "s--t," especially, but also "a--hole," "bitch," "damn," "retarded," and more.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

An 18-year-old smokes cigarettes (usually off camera, but sometimes on camera). Even when she's not smoking on camera, the smell lingers, making characters wonder who's smoking. Two high schoolers want someone they believe is over 21 to buy them alcohol, but it doesn't happen. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Jack of the Red Hearts is a family drama about an 18-year-old who deceives her way into a live-in position caring for a young girl on the autism spectrum. The movie has quite a bit of strong language for a family-oriented film: mostly "s--t," "bitch," "ass," and the insult "retarded" (used in reference to a neurotypical person). The main character smokes cigarettes, shoplifts, commits fraud, and generally acts in an iffy way for much of the movie -- until she starts to really care for her charge, Glory. Although the movie attempts to explore the challenges of family life involving a child with special needs, some viewers (particularly those in the autism or disability community) might see Glory as merely a prop or muse for a neurotypical character's development. The idea that Glory's family has had to sacrifice so much for her care might ring true to some, but it could also seem stereotypical to others who feel that aspect of stories about special needs families tiring or untrue. On the bright side, the movie doesn't shy away from showing that Jack's questionable actions, however well-intentioned and eventually even helpful, do have consequences.

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Teen, 17 years old Written bylily2540 January 14, 2018

amazing

loved it, mature theme

What's the story?

JACK OF THE RED HEARTS is the story of a desperate 18-year-old, Jack (AnnaSophia Robb), who wants to be granted guardianship of her sister, "Coke" (Sophia Anne Caruso), who will otherwise have to live in foster care. A petty criminal who's committed fraud and shoplifted, Jack ends up on the run from the authorities. With the help of a friend, Jack impersonates a skilled special educator named Donna on the day of an interview for a live-in position to care for Glory, a barely verbal 11-year-old girl with autism. Having blown through the family's savings, Glory's mother, Kay (Famke Janssen), has to work for the first time since Glory was a baby, and she's impressed with Donna's resume and references. Jack-as-Donna gets the job but has no idea what she's in for with Glory, whom she must shadow at school and during various activities and therapies. Although she's rough around the edges, Jack manages to "pass" as Donna -- except when she's around Glory's 17-year-old brother, Robert (Israel Broussard), who believes his parents are blind to inconsistencies about Donna's behavior and background but is also smitten with her.

Is it any good?

With fine performances from Robb and Janssen, this family drama is touching but stereotypical in its portrayal of how a girl with autism helps change an unethical young woman's life for the better. That Jack lasts even a few days as Glory's live-in caretaker seems unbelievable (and borderline insulting to professionals who've dedicated themselves to caring for and educating children with special needs). Although director Janet Grillo, working from a screenplay by Jennifer Deaton, wisely makes sure Jack faces consequences for her actions, the set-up is a bit predictable. There's never a doubt that Glory will finally express herself verbally and make breakthroughs with Jack, who has to steal another caretaker's folder to even have a clue what she should be doing with the girl. Robb, a talented young actress, gives Jack the right balance of a con artist's charm, a former foster kid's street smarts, and a determined older sister's desperation.

Broussard is equally as impressive as Glory's clever brother, who simultaneously crushes on "Donna" but has serious doubts about her qualifications -- like when she doesn't seem to know who Annie Sullivan or Helen Keller are and casually uses the "R"-word -- something he calls her on. The story edges into melodrama at times, and the fact that Glory's activities, diet, and therapies are portrayed as destroying her family both financially and emotionally may concern families with special-needs children. Ultimately, Jack learns a lot about herself and how to help Glory, and that's laudable, but the movie reduces Glory to a vehicle for Jack's character growth and maturity in a way that's formulaic. Still, Jack of the Red Hearts is worth seeing and discussing the issue of autism, how characters with autism are depicted in popular culture, and why the narratives about families with special needs to evolve and focus on them, not just their families and helpers.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Jack of the Red Hearts depicts autism and its effects on a family. For families with a member who has autism -- is this portrayal believable? Stereotypical? What changes might you make?

  • What other movies or TV shows have you seen about people with autism? How does this one compare?

  • How does caring for Glory help Jack? And how does Jack help Glory? Do you know any families dealing with a member's special needs? How does it affect them?

  • Is Jack a role model? Why or why not? Does she exhibit -- or learn -- any clear character strengths during the movie?

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