Few would understand the trials and tribulations of living with a special-needs child, but as the mother of a son on the autism spectrum, director Janet Grillo (Fly Away) ably and unsentimentally immerses viewers in that demanding experience in Jack of the Red Hearts. AnnaSophia Robb stars as "Jack," a septum-pierced teenage runaway who, in a quick-cash attempt to gain custody of her younger sister, impersonates a caregiver to a family with an 11-year-old autistic daughter named Glory (Taylor Richardson). Moderately streetwise but in over her head, Jack not only manages to fool the low-functioning girl's perpetually frazzled mother (Famke Janssen), uncomfortably numb father (Scott Cohen) and frustrated teen brother (Israel Broussard), but also forms a bond with her young charge. Aside from some hallucinatory POV shots to illustrate Glory's sensory issues, the film has the sterile look and feel of a made-for-TV melodrama, the situation and its lived-in details far more compelling than its blandly earnest plotting. There's an unnecessary romantic interlude between Jack and the brother, and the inevitable crumbling of the delinquent's facade — along with a denouement of good intentions and forgiveness — plays out exactly as it would on the Lifetime network. Still, it's rare that a drama shows such specificity to the resilience of those coping with autism, and that sensitivity goes a long way.
Janet GrilloAnnasophia Robb, Famke Janssen, Scott Cohen, Taylor Richardson, Israel Broussard, John D'Leo, Sophia Anne Caruso, Drena De Niro, Parisa Fitz-Henley, Giullian Yao GioielloJennifer DeatonStefan Nowicki, Joey Carey, Morgan WhiteSun Dial Pictures