Eric England’s Josie strings us along in a way that you might say, if you’re feeling generous, is in canny lockstep with how Josie (Sophie Turner) pulls one over on Hank (Dylan McDermott). The film’s press notes are cavalier about her being up to no good, which is strange given the lengths the screenplay goes to in trying to convince us otherwise. Up until the point in the film where Josie’s true intentions are revealed, you may actually believe that she has a military dad and that her parents, ostensibly living in Germany, are about to join her in the Southern Podunk town she moves to for reasons that no character in the film really cares to seriously ponder because they’re too distracted by how she dresses like she’s going to the Oscars with Adam Rippon.
Hank lives in lonely isolation in one of the saddest motel apartments the movies have ever seen, and every day he hobbles to his pickup truck and to the high school outside of which he does his truant officer’s work. He’s such a sad sack that the students—including Marcus (Jack Kilmer, son of Val)—bully him, putting shit in his truck and painting the word SPANK onto its side. At one point, while wearing only a pair of tighty whities, he holds onto one of his pet turtles and stares at a sunbathing Josie through the camouflage netting that covers his turtle pen—and it’s some kind of testament to McDermott that this uniquely peculiar scene manages to be more sad than twee.
When Josie reaches out to Hank, her intentions feel genuine, and after he reveals to her the reason for his perpetual sorrow, it’s as if the door has been opened for a two-hander about the sins of the past, remorse, and forgiveness. But then she states her own raison d’etre and Josie tips over into the sort of tawdriness that could—and maybe should—have been the film’s default register. In the end, the desire to preserve the story’s “gotcha moment” effectively trivializes Josie as a character and steps on Turner’s toes. Throughout, the actress isn’t allowed to even hint at the emotions that this moment finally brings to the surface, perhaps because the filmmakers feared it would have cast doubt on what looks like Josie’s genuine act of empathy. But complicating the character would have allowed Josie to feel as if it actually had more on its mind than pulling the rug out from under us.