Review by Cole Groth
At 27 years of age, Madelaine Petsch is still stuck in high school. Since her rise to fame in 2017 as Riverdale's Cheryl Blossom, she's performed as the same rich, white, prissy girl — a role that makes her perfectly suited as Olivia in Sabrina Jaglom's Jane. This film follows Petsch as a high school senior whose only goal is to get into her dream school, Stanford. While reeling from the death of one of her close friends, Jane (Chloe Yu), Olivia decides to abuse her social media presence to gain a sense of control, eventually leading to devastating results. Like many modern psychological thrillers, this one doesn't work because of the hopelessly unlikeable leads and a weak ending. On all accounts, Jane is the worst high school experience imaginable.
Just coming out of high school myself, it's frustrating to see films that fail to replicate something even similar to the typical high school experience. In this sense, Jane succeeds. Even though I'm not a fan of the story whatsoever, the dialogue is decent and sometimes feels relatable. Most of the characters fit within the world that Olivia occupies in a realistic way, making the story feel much more grounded, which it seriously needs. The best scene in the film is a party scene which feels very accurate to parties that I attended when I was in high school, a remarkably hard feat given that Hollywood now feels so disconnected from teenagers. This element of the film falls flat after a plethora of unrealistic encounters and frustrating decisions from the lead characters. The first shot is Jane's suicide, marking her as the catalyst for every event in the film. However, the script can't decide whether she has any influence on the world after her death or if she's merely a moment in the past of Olivia and her best friend, Izzy (Chloe Bailey). After her suicide, the two use Jane's social media account to shame girls around campus in a Pretty Little Liars way. At certain points throughout, both characters claim that they weren't the ones to make a particular post, and it's never explained if it's supposed to be the ghost of Jane doing it or if somebody else has hacked the account. It's little things like these that are incredibly frustrating because the ending doesn't give any of it away.
Director Sabrina Jaglom and writer Rishi Rajani have managed to create a script with pretty great dialogue and an unreasonably terrible plot. Each beat feels generic, and the film's overall structure is obnoxious and repetitive. Olivia is a horrible person, and one of the best elements of the film is that she is treated as such. However, this doesn't change the fact that films with bad leading characters suffer greatly. Viewers will find themselves rolling their eyes at how little they like the main character, so there's no payoff for any actions. This is a fundamental problem that films like this have, and Jaglom doesn't do a good job justifying any of these scenes other than to generate a bitter ending for Olivia's story. Without going into much detail, the third act is by far one of the weakest I've seen in months. The pacing is one of the best elements of the film, but this ending is so weak that it still feels like the movie was overlong. An 83-minute runtime should be easy to justify, but when the first two acts play out in a tight yet generically interesting way, it's all up to the third act to bring them together. The fate of both Olivia and Izzy should have been the first things planned out in the script outline, but it feels rushed and mind-numbingly idiotic.
These criticisms of the story are driven mainly by my dislike for dour thrillers such as this one, so viewers might find something entertaining about bad girls losing their minds for the previously mentioned brief runtime. From a production standpoint, this film works. The use of social media, one of the primary elements of the film, was well-executed and looked fairly nice, the cinematography and editing were well done, and the performances from the cast were decent. Petsch and Bailey are an interesting not-so-dynamic duo; Ian Owens and Nina Bloomgarden's supporting performances as Mr. Richardson and Camille, respectively, were well done; and the Oscar-winning Melissa Leo is pretty good as Principal Rhodes. It's a shame that the filmmakers didn't use Leo more because her role could've been so much more interesting if she had been given more to do.
Overall, Jane is a messy and generic thriller that works until it tries something new. As a commentary on modern high school politics, it has a hard time finding its footing, and as a character study on an overly ambitious young woman, it's cartoonishly stupid. While the film is slick at times and supported by strong performances, this one doesn't stand out enough in its crowd to be the choice for any fans of the already crowded genre.
Jane opens in theaters on August 26th, and on VOD starting September 16th.