First thing to get out of the way: No, David M. Rosenthal’s third feature, Janie Jones, has nothing to do with the famous song by the same name that opens the Clash’s self-titled 1977 debut album. Perhaps that might have made this film far more interesting film it is.
Instead, this Janie Jones plays like a cross between Crazy Heart (struggling former music icon tries to make good with relatives and get back to the top) and Somewhere (spiritually desiccated artist finds himself rejuvenated in the presence of his daughter). Down-in-the-dumps former rock star Ethan (Alessandro Nivola) discovers he has a daughter (Abigail Breslin) named Janie Jones from a hopeless drug-addict mother (Elisabeth Shue), with whom Ethan apparently had a brief tryst years ago that he doesn’t remember now. When the mother leaves Janie at one of Ethan’s rock shows (she says she’s going to get herself cleaned up), he’s forced to take him under her wing on tour.
You can probably guess what must happen during the course of this road trip. Even less surprising than its story arc, however, are its character details. Ethan, of course, is a hard-drinking, pugnacious asshole whose behavior eventually drives the rest of his band members away, leaving him one-on-one with his daughter as he tries to mount a comeback. As for Janie herself, well, it’s mildly interesting that she turns out to be quite the musical talent herself, though this fact is introduced so early in the film, and in such a hackneyed manner—at moments of stress, she whips her guitar and starts singing her original tunes out in the open, practically begging to be discovered for the film’s benefit—that even then, there’s no real suspense as to how Ethan and Janie will eventually, inevitably connect.
Despite its panoply of clichés, Janie Jones does admittedly work up some goodwill once you accept it on its almost defiantly generic, low-stakes terms. Unlike Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, Nivola doesn’t seem to be begging for our affections even at his behavioral worst, and Rosenthal, to his credit, doesn’t shape his character to be a lovable loser; often, he’s just a loser, plain and simple. And it’s pretty difficult to resist Breslin’s charms as the title character—especially when, in one amusing sequence, she’s forced to bail out her father from jail by, among other things, getting behind the wheel of a car and nervously driving to a hotel room, and then getting in touch with a bail bondsman while affecting a manly voice. That’s true love, folks—and even if Rosenthal’s film is almost astoundingly unambitious, at least it’s generous and warmhearted enough to be reasonably inoffensive. Oh, and the songs aren’t too bad, either: bland but pleasant, much like the film itself.