Heartbreakingly relatable and emotionally investing, “Jake, the Failure” is a triumph of short-form filmmaking about disillusionment.
Few horrors are more profound than feeling like you have no purpose and no real place in the world.
This is the horror that Jake, The Failure so potently mines.
I won’t say everyone will relate to the heartbreak and agony of Jake, the Failure. Some of you, the lucky ones, might not understand what it’s like to feel lost, unfulfilled, and woefully unable to realize your imagined potential.
For many of us, however, we know the feeling all too well.
This type of existential crisis is most likely to strike those of us who grew up as dreamers, flush with promise and an idealistic vision for the future. Perhaps we suffer from the curse of the gifted and talented, so often encouraged at a young age and assured we were destined for greatness, only to discover our shine wears off considerably as we age.
Perhaps we are creative types who once believed talent alone would be enough to secure a career in our chosen field, blissfully pursuing our passions and reaping huge rewards. We couldn’t imagine doing anything other than what we love, so we never had a backup plan.
At some point, for so many of us, reality reared its ugly head. And we were not equipped for it.
At some point, we realized maybe we weren’t that special. And, even if we were — even if we were brilliant and talented — that alone did not assure us a place among the pantheon of greatness. It didn’t even guarantee us a seat at the table or a modicum of job security.
We may have realized that we had to pursue a “normal” 9 to 5 to make ends meet, with every passing day making our dreams of making it as artists or creators seem that much more impossibly unattainable.
The problem with realizing you might not be able to do what you love isn’t just that you find yourself stuck in a job you hate with no exciting prospects. It’s that so much of who you are, your self-identity, is wrapped up in what you do.
The inability to express who you are in a way that nourishes both your soul and your body, giving you purpose while putting food on the table, can be emotionally devastating and even psychologically crippling. It can feel like life is devoid of meaning, especially if you don’t have a strong support network or something else in your life that gives you a reason to get out of bed each morning.
And that is precisely Jake’s story.
All that ever mattered to him was becoming a writer. He was so self-assured and confident. He sacrificed everything — family and a loving relationship — to pursue his dream. But when he finds himself stuck in a meaningless minimum-wage job as a parking lot attendant while facing rejection after rejection for his writing, he begins to believe he doesn’t matter.
From the film’s opening shot to its final gut-wrenching scene, Jake, the Failure is riveting, relatable, and heartbreaking.
It begins with a voiceover as Jake is typing, working on his next script he knows is bound to get rejected, where he wonders, “Who will remember me?”
That’s the crux of his suffering. It’s not simply that he hasn’t found the success he was chasing or been able to make it as a writer. It’s that, without achieving the greatness he was so sure was inevitable, he feels he has nothing else to offer. He’s alone and insignificant, and he hasn’t made enough of a mark to justify his existence.
The entire internal monologue that opens the film, as we watch Jake going about his sad existence devoid of passion or human connection, is so full of sincere pathos that it feels like it comes from a very personal place.
Whether or not writer-director Julian Sibal crafted this moving story as a way to work through his own struggles as an aspiring creator, he most certainly understands the perspective of his main character and the emotional turmoil Jake suffers.
Sibal feels Jake’s pain intensely, and he’s remarkably effective at making us feel it, too.
Sibal’s ability to translate so much loneliness, regret, and hopelessness onto the screen is aided considerably by a moving and believable performance by Andi Rexha as the titular character.
Rexha is mesmerizing as our tragic “hero” and will take your breath away in the film’s final emotional moments.
With a runtime of fewer than ten minutes, Jake, the Failure packs an emotional punch and is likely to resonate in a big way with many viewers. It’s a quiet, straightforward film, but it’s incredibly impactful and hauntingly beautiful.
You don’t have to be an aspiring writer or artist to relate to Jake’s plight. This is a film for anyone who has ever worried they don’t matter or regretted their life is far from what they imagined it to be.
Though it’s a tragic tale, Jake, the Failure ultimately reminds us that the struggle is universal, and we are not the only ones to have felt like this. There are others out there, so many others, who understand exactly how we feel and who share the same fears, insecurities, doubts, and disappointments.
It is likely to make you feel less alone. It may make you feel seen and understood.
If someone like Sibal can take these kinds of painful feelings and channel them into such a powerful piece of art, the pain suddenly becomes purposeful. And tomorrow suddenly becomes a little more hopeful.
It doesn’t make the struggle any less real. But it does remind us that we’re never really failures until we decide to stop trying. Not only does that make Jake, the Failure an impactful film, but it makes it an essential one.