Seven directors work together to create a film that feels like a freshman year film school project.
Most kids have probably drawn an exquisite corpse at least once, even if they didn’t know it had such a name. You fold up a paper into thirds before drawing a man, with the top third as the head, the second as the torso, and the third as the legs. You draw the head and then fold it over hiding your creation before passing the paper to the next person. This way, it becomes a collaborative drawing where each part is created in secret and you only see how it all comes together when it’s unfolded at the end. It’s an incredibly fun way to spend a rainy afternoon and, as it turns out, a pretty awful way to make a movie.
And yet, that’s what The Seven Faces of Jane is. It opens with a definition of the term and informs the audience that seven filmmakers each made a segment of the movie in secret, without knowing what came before or after it, to create the movie you’re about to watch.
Gillian Jacobs stars as Jane and directs the segments that act as a loose bookend to tie the film together, but it is impossible to stress just how much this does not work.
That this is a thought experiment from a handful of Hollywood legacies (Roman and Gia Coppola and Xan Cassavetes for starters) as well as a cadre of others with the capital both social and economic to spend only makes it more frustrating.
The basic plot, what there is of one that is, follows Jane as she drives around Los Angeles from one vignette to the next. Each segment seems to show a side of her or a piece of her past that’s made her who she is right now, but I cannot emphasize just how tenuous the connections that tie one segment to the next really are.
There is not a single vignette that would not be dramatically improved were it allowed to exist on its own, without being hampered by the restrictions of this art school experiment. This is especially true for Boma Iluma and Julian Acosta’s segments, both of which deal explicitly with race in a way that is dragged down by the presence of Jacobs.
Iluma’s segment is the best of the bunch, mainly because while it stumbles in execution, it has the clearest and by far the most interesting vision. He wants to talk about the way leaving an interracial relationship allowed his character Tayo to fully embrace his Blackness. It’s a fascinating perspective that suffers because it’s forced to make Jacobs the star of a scene that doesn’t need her.
Similarly, Acosta’s segment deals explicitly with Mexican culture and features several stomach-churning scenes where we watch white, blonde Jane translate Spanish and explain Mexican culture to a Latina girl on her quinceañera. What this portion of the film really wants to discuss is the distance many young Mexican-Americans can feel between themselves and their culture. Jacobs presence, in particular the bizarre way it’s handled here, is disastrous.
That each of the seven segments is mercifully short helps the film fly along at a clip, but at the end of the run time, all we have is a muddled tale told by those with the power and connections to have made something better, signifying nothing.
Experiments like this can absolutely have their place. I’m not even arguing it’s impossible to ever make this construction work, but the danger in it comes from prioritizing the format over the content itself. When mercilessly constricting yourself and your work to fit a narrative construction as complicated as an exquisite corpse at the expense of drama, theme, and catharsis, then what’s the point? It may be a valuable creative exercise for the creator, but that’s not what the audience is there for and that’s what The Seven Faces of Jane has forgotten.
The Seven Faces of Jane opens in limited theatrical release and on streaming January 13th.