'Jackie & Ryan' a strong duet of searching musical souls

The heartland drama "Jackie & Ryan" may prove too low-key and deliberately paced for less patient viewers, but distinct pleasures are to be had from this compactly shot film's easy rhythms, affecting tone and nicely modulated performances.

Writer-director Ami Canaan Mann ("Texas Killing Fields") takes a gentle, lyrical approach to her intimate story of a struggling single mother, Jackie (Katherine Heigl), who enjoys several wintry, romantic days with rail-riding busker Ryan (Ben Barnes) when he passes through her hometown of Ogden, Utah.

If not quite lost souls, Jackie and Ryan both need a jump-start. For one-time recording artist Jackie, it's about summoning the strength — emotionally and financially — to battle her estranged husband for custody of their young daughter, Lia (Emily Alyn Lind). Meanwhile, Ryan, a talented guitarist and folk singer, is searching for the confidence to write his own songs and prove his worth as an authentic artist.

Jackie and Ryan are at first drawn together by their mutual love of music. It gives way to a kind of port-in-a-storm physical attraction that's handled here with credibility and grace. A stirring third act effectively eschews Hollywood tropes.

Heigl is warmer and more equitable than usual; Barnes, soulful and sexy. They both do justice to performing the movie's array of folk songs, most of which are either pre-1930s standards or originals written by Mann, the film's composer, Nick Hans, or both. Folk rocker Fergus Daly provided three fine new tunes as well.

Clea DuVall as the wife of Ryan's elusive music cohort and Sheryl Lee as Jackie's wary mom are also strong, though Lee, just 12 years Heigl's senior, feels a bit young for the part.


"Jackie & Ryan"

MPAA rating: PG-13 for brief strong language, suggestive material.

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills. Also on video on demand.

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