King Jack, from first time writer-director Felix Thompson, explores the inherent masochism of a teenage existence fraught with inexplicable desire and ill-advised vengeance.

King Jack Review

Thompson’s film opens like many coming of age indies: a shaky camera, moody and soulful music blaring above the sounds of the action rolling on the film, intimate lighting and a scruffy kid on a mission. Here, it’s Jack (Charlie Plummer), a fifteen-year-old trying to keep his head above water in a poor rural town that seems to be uniquely against him. As the movie unfolds, Thompson’s vision for Jack finds its groove, exploring the nuances of a young man who has yet to realize he might be his own worst enemy.

When Jack is introduced, he’s spray painting vulgarities on garage doors, taking off before his longtime bully Shane (Danny Flaherty) can chase him down. Pulling his bike behind another home and tossing it over a fence, Jack comes face-to-face with a dog whose food bowl was left just out of reach. Cursing at the owners with empathy flickering in his eyes, Jack halts his getaway to move the bowl closer. It’s the moment Thompson wrote – and that Plummer ably performed – that establishes that Jack is one of those rough kids with a good soul that’s hard to show.

Nicknamed Scab to his immense irritation, Jack has a crush on one of the cool girls who calls him Scab and watches on as his bullies beat him and cover his face in spray paint until he’s choking. It’s no wonder that when he sends her the shirtless picture of himself she retorts with “ew” or that when he sends her a picture of his manhood (poignantly taken in the high school bathroom with his baggy, ripped and dirty jeans hanging around his ankles), she shows it to her friends who mock his negligible size.

Adding to the un-sexiness of Jack’s sexual exploits, he gets his first kiss during a game of truth or dare – and his second one in a ruse that leaves him blindfolded in his underwear and easy prey for his abusers. For every ill-advised move that Jack takes to establish the guise of power or social success, he’s left humiliated.

Throughout the movie, Jack’s sidekick is his quiet cousin Ben (Cory Nichols), who is sent to live with his family after his mother has a breakdown. He’s someone who Jack sees as obviously inferior to him. But, instead of wanting to bully Ben as he’s bullied, he wants to impress upon him that he’s cool, that he’s worthy, worthy of the title King Jack that his father had given him, worthy enough to shed the nickname Scab. It’s this relationship, which develops over a pair of days, that changes Jack more than anything.

Jack’s redemption has its share of bruises, both physical and emotional – and they’re ultimately what deliver him into a position of personal power, which comes complete with a paper crown and a bike ride in the company of those who love him.

King Jack premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. Its release date is TBD.

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