There’s a parlor game called “Exquisite Corpse” which was popular among the Surrealist Crowd in the early 20th century. To play, the first participant writes a sentence on a sheet of paper, folds the paper, and hands it to the next person. That person adds a sentence without knowing what is already written, folds the paper, and hands it to the third person—and so on and so forth until everyone has written their contribution, or the group reaches whatever stopping point was previously agreed upon. There are variations—each person may add a word, according to a fixed sentence structure, for instance, which may remind you of playing Mad Libs, or each may contribute sketch to what will eventually be a complete picture.
The Seven Faces of Jane is the cinematic equivalent of Exquisite Corpse, with each of the directors—Gillian Jacobs, Gia Coppola, Boma Iluma, Ryan Heffington, Xan Cassavetes, Julian J. Acosta, Ken Jeong, and Alex Takacs—creating individual segments without much knowledge of what the others were doing. The resulting segments were knitted together by Roman Coppola, a fan of the Fluxus tradition of, as he describes it in the press notes, “favoring the process and the journey, which then becomes the finished product.” It was shot during Sept. 2021, so the fact that the segments were created separately also help fulfill the public health requirements imposed by the COVID-19 Pandemic.
There’s a literal journey at the heart of The Seven Faces of Jane, as the film begins with the central character of Jane, played by Gillian Jacobs, dropping her eight-year-old daughter (Joni Reiss) off at summer camp, after giving her a pep talk about the importance of making new friends and embracing new experiences. This opening action frees Jane from childcare responsibilities* long enough for her to head off on the open road (in a Mustang, of course, and with an appropriate soundtrack) to have her own adventures, meeting new people and having new experiences in grand old spirit of the American road movie.
Each segment in The Seven Faces of Jane illustrates an episode in the central character’s life, so it’s not really an anthology film—and yet it can feel like one, for better or worse. The character of Jane provides some continuinty, and the beginning and ending are explicitly tied together, but in between the segments don’t always work together to create a unified story such as one would expect from a conventional drama film.
Like any film involving many “cooks,” you’ll probably prefer some parts over others, and the price of admission to see the ones that are meaningful to you is sitting through some others that you could have done without. Everyone has their own taste, so I’m hesitant to identify winners and losers, but I particularly enjoyed Jane’s encounter with a young lady not looking forward to her quinceañera, due in no small part to the unexpected yet utterly human nature of the encounter. | Sarah Boslaugh
* If you’ve ever wondered why it’s mostly men that get to go on road trips in movies and literature and such, this detail should give you a clue.
The Seven Faces of Jane opens in select theatres on Jan. 13 and will also be available on VOD beginning on that date as well.