In Jack of the Red Hearts, a castoff from the foster system finds a place to belong through dishonesty, ending up with a sense of self, responsibility, and care for another person to move to a better life. Hmm. When I put it like that doesn’t it sound so bad. And to be fair, it has won awards at festivals. But it never quite worked for me even though thematically, it has a bit to commend it.
Jack (AnnaSophia Robb) has aged out of the foster care system, but her sister, whom Jack calls Coke, is still in the system. Jack hatches a plan to get enough money to get a place to live and “rescue” Coke. With a bit of identity theft, she cons her way into a job of caregiver for an autistic child, Glory. Obviously this is a job she has no qualifications for, but she manages to stumble through it. Glory’s mother Kay (Famke Jannsen) sees in Jack (whom she knows as Donna) as a substitute daughter that she can talk to and relate to. Glory’s teenage brother Robert (Israel Broussard) has a crush on Jack, thinking she is older than she is. Eventually, of course, the truth will come out with feelings of betrayal. But can Jack save the day by getting Glory into a special school? There is a strong Lifetime Channel vibe to the film, which some people appreciate.
I should start with the things that didn’t work for me. (But I’ll go on to the parts I find valuable.) It really is a bit implausible for Jack to have any ability to connect to Glory, especially since her sole training is watching The Miracle Worker after Robert suggests she’s acting like Anne Sullivan with Helen Keller. I wondered how many times of Glory getting lost it would take before Jack knew she had to keep an eye on her. That everything manages to go well for as long as it does really does strain credulity.
However, the film also has a strong emphasis on the healing that can come by opening oneself to others. Jack’s whole world is self. Even her attachment to her sister really is just an extension of her understanding of who she is. That is why she refers to herself and her sister as Jack and Coke—a mixture in which both sides compliment the other to create a whole. She only begins to grow as a person when she begins to connect to Glory and her family. I don’t think it is incidental that Glory is autistic—a range of disorders in which people cannot relate to other people in various ways. Jack enters the relationship without caring for anyone other than herself and her extension Coke. Just as she learns to pay attention to the needs of Glory, she also learns that by serving another she serves herself. That plays itself out in her other relationships as well, even with Coke who may well be better off, at least for now, with a family that cares for her. Although things look very bad for Jack at films end, they also seem very hopeful because of the changes that have happened within her.