MEADOWLARK

Teenage troublemaker Coop has been expelled from school, hates his mom’s dorky boyfriend, and wishes he could just live with his dad, Jack, a brave and charming (if frequently late) corrections officer with a past as a boxer. But when Jack’s fraught relationship with Coop’s mom forces an impromptu bring-your-son-to-work day at the local prison, a series of events unfold that upend Coop’s understanding of his father and force him to grow up quickly. The story is swift and breezy, relying on archetypes (tough but maternal boss, lunatic killer inmates, exasperated woman who still cares about her screw-up ex-husband) and pattering dialogue (“Buck will never be too dumb to forget how smart you think you are, Jack”) to fill in characters painted mostly in broad strokes. Coop is unhappy and self-sabotaging but without clear motivation other than the strained relationship with his father. We get a peek into Coop’s head through dreams and nature-inspired reveries, and Ruth’s exceptional art imbues those moments with a power beyond words. But with the intensity of Coop’s experience by the end, a bit more exploration of his interior landscape would’ve helped the brutally life-changing events of the story resonate beyond the raw power of blood spatter. The near photorealism and energy of Ruth’s linework are absolutely gorgeous, and the striking similarity between Jack’s physical appearance and that of co-writer Hawke is a fun nod to the actor and co-author. But the story’s reliance on Hollywood tropes keeps the tale from full poignancy.

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