Netflix and teen drama are a match made in heaven; from popular titles like, , , and to international films like , , and , the adolescent content just keeps on coming. JJ+E, now streaming on Netflix, plays like a Romeo + Juliet of sorts and is bound to appeal to lovers of intense teen romance.
: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: Teenagers John-John (Mustapha Aarab) and Elisabeth (Elsa Öhrn) come from different worlds; while Elisabeth goes for midnight swims and enjoys days dining by the bay, John-John and his group of friends burglarize stores and homes, and take other people’s boats for joyrides. One fateful day, John-John happens to be in the right place at the right time and saves Elisabeth’s little sister Patricia from drowning, and the two cross paths for the first time. They soon discover they’re both attending the same theater school, too, and sparks begin to fly – despite Elisabeth’s attempts to keep her distance, as she is grieving the loss of her mother.
It isn’t long before the two truly connect; they may come from different worlds, but Elisabeth and John-John share something special, something that most of the people around them can’t really seem to understand. They joyfully rehearse for their upcoming performance at school, and sneak around behind Elisabeth’s father’s back, finding time to explore their city and fall more in love. This bliss can’t last forever, though, and when John-John is backed into a corner with no way out, the differences in their worlds threaten to tear them apart forever.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: JJ+E might remind you a little bit of the other international teen flicks that have hit the platform recently, like, , and Into the Beat.
Performance Worth Watching: The ensemble is wonderful, but Elsa Öhrn has a real star quality, giving off major Anna Chlumsky and Florence Pugh vibes with her performance. Whether she’s sulking at home, showing off her acting chops to John-John’s friends, or falling head over heels into young love, she’s utterly convincing, charming in an understated way that makes each one of her scenes thoroughly engrossing.
Memorable Dialogue: I ran to jot down an early line from one of John-John’s friends prior to breaking into Frank’s house: “No one who’s that rich is nice,” says Sluggo. “Either he or one of his ancestors fucked someone over.”
Sex and Skin: There’s some sweet, tender first-love sex, and lots of canoodling.
Our Take: JJ+E avoids the biggest sin committed by most teen dramas: it never gets soapy. The film creates a grounded world from the get-go, making Stockholm feel like any neighborhood, and John-John and his friends like kids we all went to school with. When the stakes get high and the drama gets intense, that sense of reality is still very much present, ensuring that the film’s heavier moments pack the punches necessary to make us really feel something (and fear for John-John’s future).
Despite the film’s successes in many arenas, however, I couldn’t help but be thrown by its indecisiveness about the story it was trying to tell. JJ+E vacillates between John-John and Elisabeth’s sweet story and the crimes happening in John-John’s friend group that eventually lead to something incredibly dark – and a pretty absurd, out-of-left-field ending. I was on board until the last 15 or so minutes of the film, when it takes a sharp dramatic turn that hits hard – but not necessarily in a way that works for JJ+E. It’s a bit of a bummer, too, because the chemistry between the young leads is so dreamy, and the story feels important. When the ending jumps the shark like this, however, it’s hard to recommend to others.
Our Call: SKIP IT. While JJ+E depicts a sweet romance and has some interesting things to say about privilege, its heightened third act proves that it’s not quite sure what kind of movie it wants to be.
Jade Budowski is a freelance writer with a knack for ruining punchlines, hogging the mic at karaoke, and thirst-tweeting. Follow her on Twitter:.