Rudie Reviews Clay Jeter’s Jess + Moss [Sundance Film Festival 2011 Review]

The balance between entertainment and art is a slippery slope. Most movies that strive for one or another usually peak with thrilling highs and emotional payoffs; the others strive for the latter are interesting and robotic. The film, Jess + Moss dives deep into more art house fare but be warned, the film deals more with the experimental and Avant-grade.

Jess + Moss is about the friendship on which the title suggest, Jess and Moss. Jess is a woman in her mid 20s caught in a sort of state of mind where she is reverting to her adolescent years. Her best friend is Moss, a friend of the family who is 12 years old. Their friendship play off like any two adolescent pre-teen friends, without a care in the world, underplaying the budding sexual feeing within. The film does not play in a linear fashion but rather told in weird snippets of audiotapes and slow motion scenes of jumping and running. Throughout the film we never get a full sense of either characters life before. We get hints of child abuse both physical and sexual but nothing is fully realized.

The film’s setting and tone feeling like the unofficial sequel to Harmony Kornine’s Gummo, a film that plays on the laughable images of rural white-trashness in the Midwest. I wasn’t sure if it was laughable in Jess + Moss. The backdrop seems to make the audience cringe in their seats but it had an opposite effect, the audience was leaving during the screening.

But in regards to the two lead, Jess played by Freak and Geeks alum, Sarah Hagan, who does a wonderful job underplaying the sexual desires of a young woman learning about her body. This should come off as creepy and disturbing but it does not. She guides Moss, played by newcomer Austin Vickers, into scenes full of imagination and playfulness. From first time filmmaker, Clay Jeter, his eye for diving in the awkward was interesting but not accessible. It seemed this film was more interesting in pushing the audience to its limits with its clumsy pacing and muddled narrative but lays consistent in mood and tone.

Overall, I do not see a movie like Jess + Moss playing at your local AMC Theater but if you did like a movie like Gummo then you might like Jess + Moss. Not as obnoxious but just as disturbing to watch. This film is full of experimental artistic value but never slips into entertainment.

Grade: C-