A second chance at happiness awaits a woman with a philandering husband and a son diagnosed with leukemia in the Aussie meller “Matching Jack.” Aside from some clumsy sequences showing the protag’s desperate measures to save her boy’s life, the pic largely succeeds in leaving auds misty-eyed without gross manipulation. First feature in 13 years by helmer Nadia Tass (“Malcolm”) and producer-writer-lenser husband David Parker opened domestically Aug. 19 to modest biz. Lacking the knockout punches needed to create big buzz around its tough-sell subject matter, pic looks set for scattered fest dates, with reasonable ancillary returns.
In a Melbourne mansion worthy of Architectural Digest, dedicated thirtysomething homemaker Marissa (Jacinda Barrett) seems to be living the perfect life with David (Richard Roxburgh), her high-flying architect hubby, and Jack (Tom Russell), the couple’s clever 9-year-old son.
Oddly fatigued in the middle of a soccer match, Jack is taken in for blood tests. In a powerful segment distilling what it must be like for a parent to swing from mild concern to devastation in 24 hours, Marissa is told Jack has leukemia and requires immediate hospitalization. The timing couldn’t be worse for David, who’s been trysting with his mistress, Veronica (Yvonne Strahovski), and is not answering Marissa’s frantic calls.
Pace revs up and rarely slackens once Marissa discovers David has bedded dozens of women over the years. Figuring he may have sired other children with bone-marrow-donor potential, she starts knocking on doors and cold-calling numbers in his little black book.
While many of Marissa’s encounters with posh blondes from David’s past are clunkily scripted and jarringly edited, pic finds its heart in the hospital ward Jack shares with Finn (Kodi Smit-McPhee), the very sick son of widowed Irish sailor Connor (James Nesbitt). Although initially annoyed by the perpetually ebullient Connor’s attempts to raise Finn’s spirits by converting his bed into a sailing ship and spinning latenight yarns about magical lands, Marissa and Jack eventually warm to his company.
Infused with gentle humor and carefully sidestepping sentimentality, the script brings the boys together as new best buddies. Marissa’s relationship with Connor convincingly ripens from shoulders for each other to cry on to a state of deep affection.
Story is predetermined to provide at least one tragic outcome, and delivers it gracefully before smoothly maneuvering into cautiously optimistic waters that will leave many viewers reaching for tissues.
Perfs are uniformly tops. Barrett switches impressively from vulnerable to fearlessly driven; Irish import Nesbitt plays both buoyant and melancholy with distinction; and outstanding thesp Smit-McPhee (“The Road”) is a quiet knockout as a child who knows precisely what every adult conversation and every movement in a cancer ward means.
Parker’s clean widescreen visuals around the historic dockside location of Williamstown and John Dowding’s eye-catching production design for Connor’s waterfront shack stand out in a solid tech package. Only bum note is a score overloaded with twee Irish melodies.