Starring Elias Koteas as the eponymous Jake Klein, Jake Squared pulls together a cast that includes Jennifer Jason Leigh, Virginia Madsen, Jane Seymour and Mike Vogel to quite effectively piece together an image of Jake throughout his life. Writer-Director Howard Goldberg and his cast hold a strong collective resume of non-mainstream, arty films, which bodes well for handling a potentially confusing plot.
Filmed in a mockumentary, behind-the-scenes style, the initial premise of the film is that Jake is writing and directing a film of his life with the intention of finding out why he is unable to hold down a relationship. Things become confusing when his past selves are introduced to the picture: his current, 50-year-old self experiencing a midlife crisis; himself at 40, himself at 30, and his teenage self (Kevin Railsback). The mockumentary style emphasises the blurred reality of the film: is Jake Klein making a film, questioning his life choices or experiencing a mystical epiphany?
As Jake’s mentality allows his film to blend into his world – which appears to be the case when other characters converse with the varying Jakes – the sense of time becomes irrelevant. 50-year-old Jake goes from talking to an old flame in his present time to discussing love with his mother 30 years in the past. The only constant we are provided is that the oldest Jake is our protagonist. Rather than being clunky and expositional, switching between time zones without any warning becomes relatively normal.
Each version of Jake through the ages presents the question of which love is Jake’s true love? Teen Jake meets a teenage Joanne (Liana Liberato), experiencing love at first sight. However, a mature Joanne is also present (Jane Seymour), who still holds a candle for Jake. In a touching scene, teen Jake asks the mature Joanne why they did not last, as he believes they are meant to be. Meanwhile, present Jake is avoiding his long-distance girlfriend Sheryl (Jennifer Jason Leigh), which questions whether his film project is intended to ensure he commits fully or is an excuse to end the relationship. Beth (Virginia Madsen), his best-friend of 25 years, presents herself as a love interest, being the one true constant in his life. Perhaps she does know him best, since it is Beth who explains the premise of the film to the camera just fifteen minutes in.
With such a loose grasp on reality, Jake Squared manages to present what is essentially our protagonist's midlife crisis from the point-of-view of a screenwriter and director who is trying to manipulate the direction of his life by committing his mistakes to film. This is very much a filmmaker’s film as a result and the writing is complex and self-aware. In one instance Jake introduces two versions of his “actor Jake” (Mike Vogel) into his film as a “great way of showing two sides of a person’s personality.” This is immediately disrupted by the introduction of an actual second Jake. Is Jake directing his film or his reality? Does he really have an effect on either? His skills as a filmmaker are seemingly poor but are perhaps just a further example of his disconnection with reality. Later on he directs a scene via radio, choosing to remain at a great distance from the set. As Jake directs his life from afar, the production mocks the filmmaking process. Camera equipment and even crew are visible as Jake Squared continues to maintain its self-aware humour.
In his soul-searching journey, Jake questions all versions of himself to figure out where he went wrong and which choice he should make, if any. Jake Squared is a touching film with honest performances, a smart sense of humour and an intelligent script that handles its life questions and time jumps seamlessly.