The Gene Siskel Film Center is currently running their 17th Annual European Union Film Festival through the month of March. Please see their website for screenings and showtimes.
Some striking images enter the frame at the start of Steph Green’s Run & Jump. Beyond the Irish coastline that is featured prominently throughout the picture, there’s the image of a bird feeder monument composed of wooden figurines - all faceless wooden blocks, all meant to represent the individual members of the household it’s adjacent to. While sporting some solid photography, Run & Jump is not a picture that likes to shy away from the obvious. It lays its thematic intent thickly and lacks the necessary subtlety to make its broad and naïve worldview work. It is, unfortunately, a disappointment.
A crisis of identity defines Run & Jump as Vanetia (Maxine Peak) drives her stroke-addled husband Conor (Edward MacLiam) from the hospital. His recovery was unexpected, therein prompting an American doctor named Ted (Will Forte) to produce a case study of his return home. Recording footage of Conor’s regression, Ted intrudes upon the family’s natural rhythms only to become entangled within them. Vanetia, initially resistant of Ted’s intrusion but accommodating of the fact that it provides her with a better understanding of her husband’s new behavior, warms up to the doctor on a personal level. The two develop a rapport that eventually escapes their understanding, where both must play the part of their accepted roles: researcher and wife.
Run & Jump ascribes to its fairly sitcom-y premise with ease and for a portion of its runtime is an acceptable if not particularly riveting distraction. Writer/director Steph Green doesn’t complicate the scripted proceedings but has a visual acuity to compose a nice image. What does become problematic is that the outlying members of the film’s family are largely afterthoughts, but it’s when Green decides to utilize them to push the narrative along does the picture feel exceedingly weighted. From the death of an underutilized but heavily symbolic character to the sexual confidence of an outed teenager, these moments are rendered not with poignancy but with a sense of manufactured intent - nothing about it ever feels truly genuine.
The film’s one highlight comes in a reaffirmation: Will Forte’s abilities as a dramatic actor are fortified with his performance here and in Alexander Payne’s Nebraska. The material in Run & Jump doesn’t call for sweeping gestures and is largely reactionary to the sprawling nature of his Irish costars, but he conveys a sense of outside intrusion with a particular nuance - through a classical underplay he’s able to steer scenes in a direction that would otherwise call for histrionics. He needs a better film than Run & Jump, but it’s clear he’s a very capable leading man.