Were the days of your youth as innocent and carefree as you maybe remember them? King Jack is a reminder that no, they probably weren’t.
The movie opens with 15-year-old Jack (Charlie Plummer) spray-painting the four-letter C-word in black spray paint across a pair of white garage doors. At home, he’s constantly tormented by his older brother Tom (played by Christian Madsen, who reminds us quite a bit of his father, Michael Madsen). Their mom Karen (Erin Davie) is a very busy but capable single mother, and there is never any explanation of what happened to the dad.
Karen gets a call saying her sister is not doing well, and he asks if Jack’s cousin Ben can come stay with them for a while. We never find out exactly what’s happening to Karen’s sister, though it’s hinted that she has some mental health problems. Ben is a few years younger than Jack, and when he arrives, the two of them are sent out of the house and forced to spend time together.
That’s when they encounter Shane (Danny Flaherty), a bully who makes Jack’s life a living hell. Much of this movie happens off screen. It’s clear Shane and Jack have had many run-ins in the past, and as the plot progresses, it becomes clear there is some history between their families, though we don’t quite learn what it is. However, the lack of detail about so many things is not a weakness. It accurately portrays how we understand the world at that age. We know that things happen, but don’t always know why, and don’t really care beyond how it affects our day-to-day reality.
If not for a few scenes in which Jack uses a cell phone, it wouldn’t be clear that this story is set in the modern day. There is a timelessness to the struggles Jack faces, navigating his family, a vicious bully and girls.
King Jack is written and directed by Felix Thompson, and it’s his first full-length feature. It clocks in at just under 90 minutes, but it captures the struggles of boyhood as vibrantly as a moment in time as Richard Linklater’s Boyhood did over a 12-year period.