There’s a poignant, powerful story lurking at the edges of “Jack of the Red Hearts” but, as is, the film proves a strained, implausible family drama.
Jack (AnnaSophia Robb) is an orphaned, 18-year-old street chick with a plucky kid sister (Sophia Anne Caruso) and a tough probation officer (Tonye Patano). In a contrived, far-fetched turn of events, Jack assumes the identity of a professional caregiver and wangles her way into a job tending a profoundly autistic girl named Glory (a convincing Taylor Richardson). That Glory’s dizzy, overwhelmed mom (Famke Janssen) hires the conniving Jack with so little due diligence is absurd and unsettling.
Meanwhile, Glory’s beleaguered dad (Scott Cohen) and bitter older brother (Israel Broussard) are dubious of Jack but reluctantly go along with the program.
Jack is in over her head, of course. But relying on her wits, tough love and, I kid you not, a viewing of “The Miracle Worker,” she amazingly calms Glory, which in turn helps soften and unite Glory’s family — temporarily.
Director Janet Grillo, who wrote and directed the superb 2011 autism-centric drama “Fly Away,” does what she can with Jennifer Deaton’s facile, predictable script but simply can’t surmount its wobbly narrative.
‘Jack of the Red Hearts’
MPAA rating: PG, for thematic elements including teen behavior, language and smoking
Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes
Playing: AMC Burbank Town Center 8; AMC Orange 30