He is the first man in her life, from the first moment a daughter gazes up at her father, she falls in love, and that love, and the way he responds to it, plays a major role in her development as a woman. To unravel the strands of this intimate bond is the challenge at the heart of this bold and compelling film written and directed by Rebecca Miller (Angela, Personal Velocity).
It is 1986, and Jack (Daniel Day-Lewis), a Scottish countercultural pioneer, lives on an island off the Eastern seaboard with his 16-year-old daughter Rose (Camilla Belle). They are isolated from others. He has home schooled her and made sure that there is no television in their ramshackle home. Jack has a terminal disease and becomes worried after Rose tells him that she intends to take her life as soon as he dies.
This prompts Jack to ask Kathleen (Catherine Keener), a woman from town that he has been having sex with, to move in with him and Rose. She is an earth woman with two very different teenage sons: the older, Rodney (Ryan McDonald), wants to be a hairdresser; Thaddius (Paul Dano) smokes pot and has a reputation as a troublemaker. Terribly upset by being forced to play second-fiddle to Kathleen, Rose asks Rodney to have sex with her. He declines but does shave off most of her long hair, giving her a totally new look. After doing the deed with Thaddius, she hangs the blood stained sheet from her bed on the clothesline outside so her father can see it. Things get even more out-of-hand when Rose simulates the psychedelic trips her father used to take with members of the commune in a geodesic dome.
Rebecca Miller has tackled a very tricky and elusive theme in The Ballad of Jack & Rose: the mysterious and primal connection between a father and daughter who have grown too close and too dependent upon each other. Daniel Day Lewis, the director's husband, gives a tour de force performance as an idealist who sees the world in black-and-whites. He is an avid environmentalist who's enraged when Marty Rance (Beau Bridges), a successful developer, starts building houses on swampland. In a confrontation with the entrepreneur, Jack breaks down and for the first time in his life, sees clearly how his idealism has faltered and he has turned into a wild man lacking any reason.
It is hard for Rose to deal with her father's vulnerability. Psychologists who have studied father-daughter relationships have concluded that it often takes a woman three decades to come to terms with all the nuances in this primal relationship that plays such an important role in her choice of friends, lovers, husband, and career path. Rose, it turns out, is a quick learner and manages to make the most of her father's impact and legacy upon her life. This is a fascinating psychodrama with Camilla Bella giving a memorable performance to equal the one by Daniel Day Lewis.