JACINTA (TFF2020) – Review by Lois Alter Mark

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Like mother, like daughter takes on a whole new significance in Jessica Earnshaw’s extraordinary documentary, Jacinta, a devastating movie about the cycle of addiction and dependency.

When the film starts, Jacinta is in prison at Maine Correctional Center – again – and so is her mother, Rosemary. The bond between the two is palpable – and not healthy.

Rosemary gave birth to Jacinta at the age of 17, after already having a son at age 15, then another one at 18. She shares that she later had a hysterectomy after being raped and that she has done heroin with her children, all of whom have been incarcerated at some point. The roots of trauma in this family are deep.

Jacinta, who had a baby of her own at the age of 16, is getting released but is nervous about leaving her mother and re-entering the real world. She hasn’t seen her own daughter, Caylynn, in 10 months, and she’s heading to a sober house to help keep herself clean, although she seems doubtful that it will work. She’s convinced that being an addict is her destiny.

None of the family members hold back when they speak to Earnshaw, revealing terribly flawed but real human beings who are honest about the “mistakes” that have cost them so much.

Earnshaw’s unparalleled access to her subject gives the film an emotional rawness that is, at times, just devastating. She’s there when Jacinta starts using again, when she goes through a harrowing detox, and when her brother’s girlfriend reveals explosive information about acts Rosemary had Jacinta commit when she was younger.

Earnshaw is also there when Caylynn cries, desperate for her mother’s love and attention, and when, years later, she gets to the point that her paternal grandma told her she’d reach, trading sadness for anger.

It’s impossible not to be moved by both Jacinta and Caylynn and the terrible ways addiction affects generations. It sounds cliché to say Jacinta has so much potential but she is smart and thoughtful and if she had been born into another family, her life would have been vastly different.

Jacinta’s love for her daughter is obvious, although she’s the first to admit that she’s often chosen drugs over her. She does distinguish between herself and Rosemary, who were literally partners in crime, giving herself credit for keeping Caylynn away from her drug use and crimes.

Her ability to protect her in that way, along with Caylynn’s own ability to read the situation and try to change it rather than follow Jacinta blindly, may help Caylynn break the cycle.

“She’s a product of her environment,” claims Jacinta’s attorney in her defense, and, sadly, he’s right.

Earnshaw has created a powerful portrait of inherited trauma that’s, ultimately, also a story of love and hope.

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Lois Alter Mark

Lois Alter Mark is an award-winning writer who reviews films on Midlife at the Oasis. A former contributing writer for Entertainment Weekly for more than a decade, she also reviewed films for NickJr.com for many years. She is a member of San Diego Film Critics Society and tweets from @loisaltermark. She writes about travel for USA Today and Forbes.