Having spent ten years gathering the funds to make the film, director Nadia Tass must be overjoyed with how Matching Jack has turned out. Both the film and Nadia received an enthusiastic reception in the QFT last night where Matching Jack was shown as part of Belfast Film Festival.
Set in Melbourne, Australia and based on real event, the film starts in a familiar frantic rush. Two parents juggling family and work: the father David (played by Richard Roxburgh) attending the first half of his son’s birthday party, while mother Marissa (Jacinda Barrett) talks on her mobile while lighting the candles on the cake.
But the pace of Lynne Renew and David Parker's screenplay slows down when little Jack (Tom Russell) gets quickly tired during a school football match and blood tests show he has a high white cell count that warrants being admitted to hospital. Not a good moment for a philandering father to be ignoring his mobile and not checked into the hotel he told his wife.
As Jack’s health fails, Marissa and David’s marriage unravels in the hospital. Enter manic, new age, hyper positive thinking widower Connor (James Nesbitt), father of Finn (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who’s in the same two bed Leukaemia ward.
“When the spirit dies, so will the flesh. That won’t be happening to my son Finn.”
He’s the kind of crazy father who pretends to live in a mythical world in which his son is sailing towards a land in which he’ll be reunited with his mother, and builds the shell of a wooden boat around his son’s hospital bed and sails it around the corridors. No gesture is too big for him. As Jack summed it up from across the ward:
“Is his Daddy sick too?”
Yet when faced with bad news, his optimism at times turns to a very human private despair out of sight of his son.
Parents will do anything to “fix” a sick child. The film explores the desperate lengths to which Jack’s parents will go to find a bone marrow match. Could any of David’s affairs have resulted in offspring that would offer Jack hope.
While death is always on the horizon, the film manages to balance tragedy with levity. The escape sequence is magical and one of many great memorable visual images contained in the film. A single black swan swims significantly across the harbour. Some later scenes are filmed at great distance, giving the characters privacy at moments of pain.
It’s an emotional film. Bring tissues. Bring extras for the people sitting around you. Yet amidst the morbidity and bitterness there is hope, love, sacrifice, reluctant cooperation and enthusiastic generosity. And a timely reminder that children are worth fighting for and loving in good times as well as bad.
With an initial release in Australia, Matching Jack is touring film festivals and in the running for a number of awards. Hopefully it will go on general release and deserves to be seen by wider audiences.
After the screening, I spoke to director Nadia Tass who talked about the film and its prospects. And if you like the film, I'm sure she'd appreciate your support over on the film's Facebook page.