The Cursing Jarby director Kate Hewlettbegins with Carey (Adelaide Clemens) sings a list of profanities directly to the camera, followed by “happy birthday baby.” This video is being made for her husband Simon (Patrick J. Adams) on his fortieth birthday, which apparently involves Carey singing a series of songs about Simon with guitar accompaniment from Owen (Douglas Smith). The Cursing Jar—written by Kate Hewlett, who also wrote the book and play of the same name – like this song, also tries to balance two sides, as the film has this sweet nature, occasionally punctuated by a surprising bit of sourness. But also, The Cursing Jar tries to balance two different love stories in a way that feels inherently awkward and frustratingly obvious – which makes The band Jar a film that tries to keep its hand hidden, even though the audience can already see what it’s holding.
The Cursing Jar follows Carey as she is stuck between two loves. Simon and Carey have a wonderful marriage that is certainly not without problems. Simon’s mother Bev (a charming stump Kathleen Turner) makes sure to stop by and point out the flaws in her previous marriage to Simon’s father, mentioning the bad qualities that Simon has inherited from him. Carey and Simon’s marriage is also about to get even more complicated as these young newlyweds are soon to become parents.
But one day, while visiting a bookstore, Carey meets Owen, an aspiring musician, who immediately takes a liking to Carey. While avoiding his interests, she also finds something intriguing in Owen, an endearing spirit that makes him hard not to love. Although Carey and Simon’s relationship is strong, Owen may be too interesting an opportunity for Carey to pass up.
The Cursing Jar is a fascinating idea in itself, but its script draws too much attention to itself. Especially in the relationship between Simon and Carey, there’s almost an attempt to have them talk to each other with the same level of banter as an old screwball comedy, and it always feels a little off. Hewlett’s script does a great job of presenting genuine joy in a new relationship, both through Carey and Owen, but the script often feels overwritten, as if it would mean more to the viewer to have these characters say less, instead of make them express themselves non-stop to the audience. Sometimes, The Cursing Jar can almost feel like a Hallmark movie in the way these characters introduce themselves to each other.
In addition, the editing is so deliberate and specific that it makes it clear that there is more going on than what we see on the surface. While this is probably a story that will be more successful with audiences who don’t know what they’re getting into, The Cursing Jar also feels like a film that has a secret it’s just desperate to get out, and it largely gives away what it’s hiding simply through the construction of the narrative.
The Cursing Jar relies on Clemens’ performance, and as Carey, she does a commendable job in a role that could really test the audience’s allegiance. Still, Clemens doesn’t make us dislike Carey because of her dual loves, instead her performance makes us understand how easy it is to fall for two people at the same time and how new loves can potentially change your life in unexpected and surprising ways. Adams and Smith are also quite good in roles that have to win over Carey in completely different ways. Simon is likable but we have to understand why Carey wants to seek something new away from him, meanwhile Owen gives Carey the potential for a relationship that we should be against but also kind of root for given the context of history. All three of these performances when taken together make this script work in a way that it might not have without the right actors at the helm.
The Cursing Jar also relies heavily on various songs, also written by Hewlett and mostly sung by Clemens, which help explore Carey’s mindset throughout this story. Like much of the dialogue, these songs can come off as a bit too on the nose, and in a way, the film’s momentum is broken up by constantly jumping to Simon’s 40th anniversary and Carey’s performance with Owen. Even though Carey is a singer-songwriter in the film, these moments almost make you wish there had been a more natural way to The Cursing Jar to integrate these songs into the overall story.
The Cursing Jar is an excellent idea, but the script and editing draw attention to themselves in a way that takes away from the film’s greatest moments – a shame considering that these moments could have been extremely effective if handled in a slightly different way . Mackay certainly has an interesting style, one that highlights the lightness and beauty of new love, and Hewlett’s script is unique and exciting in its own way, but The Cursing Jar can’t overcome fundamental problems that slow down this film’s ambitions before it can reveal its bigger picture.