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Saturday 28th, five days into the 21st Annual Raindance and with no signs of slowing down, I saw two films from other ends of the pond. LA’s Jake Squared and UK production Titus. Two films about two middle-aged men both struggling to come to terms with their identity and, interestingly, how much or how little they were willing to allow others to love them back.
Written, produced and directed by Howard Goldberg, Jake Squared is an existential piece of comedy drama, utilising a film-within-a-film technique to hilarious and mind-boggling effect.
Jake Klein is a 50-year-old filmmaker with some stories to tell. So much so that we meet him whilst he’s in the middle of shooting a movie about his interesting life. He’s hired the up and coming actor Mike Vogel (Under The Dome, Pan Am) to play him and a host of other ‘beautiful people’ to play characters from his life.
This is of course Hollywood – so hilariously and intentionally – the cast look nothing like the real people they’re supposedly portraying. Unfortunately for the real Jake, his past catches up with him and soon enough Jake at 17, 30 and 40 are all under one roof, telling present Jake some home truths about the choices he’s made in life. Maybe he’s suffering from a mental breakdown; maybe it’s all part of the film – we don’t really know until the end – but as his life seemingly unravels before his eyes and beyond his control, Jake is forced to watch as loved ones long gone, and others that have stuck around both begrudgingly and willingly, appear.
I saw this film as one big therapy session and was reminded of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol; I will admit it takes some effort in following but at its heart this is a story about a man who doesn’t know how good he’s had it until it’s gone – or in this case played out in front of him. Jake is narcissistic and suffers from commitment issues, but he’s also clearly an optimist when it comes to the idea of love. His parents 55-year marriage is a constant marker for what he wants for himself and yet he’s unwilling to allow himself to experience the prospect when it’s in front of him.
The use of philosophical quotes, anarchic plot, magic realism, existential dialogue, and the life-behind-the-industry-lens technique draws obvious comparisons with the works and styles pioneered by everyone from Charlie Kaufman and Larry David to Groucho Marx and Woody Allen. Elias Koteas manages to take on a protagonist that is ever-present, inherently flawed and mildly bearable. The supporting talent is fantastic, Virginia Madsen, Mike Vogel, Jane Seymour, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Gia Mantegna are all captivating in their respective scenes – as they do in Jake’s life. However a special shout out most definitely goes to rising star Mantegna who showcases superb comic timing and illuminating presence in the role as Jake’s daughter and eldest child, Sarah.