''Titanic" fans, there is bad news. ''The Ballad of Jack and Rose" is not the further adventures of the doomed lovers on James Cameron's tragic ocean liner. It's just the doomed story of a gravely ill environmentalist, his rebellious daughter, and the mess that's made of their home and their lives when he asks his girlfriend and her two sons to move in.
This is the third movie from Rebecca Miller, whose last film was a trio of shorts called ''Personal Velocity," and it's the kind of work that only interesting, idiosyncratic moviemakers are capable of: indulgent, shapeless, and full of well-meant but ponderous pieties and psychologically driven mayhem.
Miller's setting is a commune on an unspecified island off the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. (The film was shot on Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.)
Miller's husband, Daniel Day-Lewis, plays her hero, Jack, a Scotsman, an environmentalist, an engineer (of alternative energy), and the commune's last holdout. If Jack weren't dying of a weak heart, having to watch as the land around his house was turned into suburbs would certainly kill him.
But he won't go without a fight. He shoots his rifle at construction crews, he defaces one house, and he gives a piece of his mind to Marty Rance (Beau Bridges), the chummy developer who's trying to get him to sell his property.
That plight might have been enough for one movie -- the lone idealist versus the bulldozing baron. In Jack there are even shades of Ella Garth, the ancient dame played by Jo Van Fleet who refused to leave her island home in Elia Kazan's ''Wild River" (1960). Indeed, Miller's movie sometimes feels like a convoluted version of Kazan's straightforward social righteousness, and of the idealism in the plays of her late father, Arthur Miller.
But ''The Ballad of Jack and Rose" is like Kazan for the WB. As television, this could easily play between ''Jack & Bobby" and ''Everwood."
But it might be too naive, even by those standards: Commune life was free and utopian and natural; then the cynics and the cellphones came. ''Jack and Rose" is about a bohemian's fight to keep his daughter safe from her peers' scathing cynicism. The struggle turns the film into a melodramatic carnival full of spats, pranks, and egregious misbehavior.
Friendless and at the height of puberty, Rose has been living in her father's hothouse for 16 years. As far as she knows, she's the only woman in his life. So imagine her dismay when Jack explains that his secret lady friend, Kathleen (Catherine Keener), will essentially become his nurse, and her mother. The new living arrangement drives Rose to destructive, childish extremes, with Kathleen's teenage sons as enablers.
The chubby bookworm Rodney (Ryan McDonald) cuts Rose's long black hair, making her look just like her dad, while Thaddeus (Paul Dano), a wiry hipster, considers deflowering her. Meanwhile, Thaddeus's rock 'n' roll attitude and interest in Rose gain Jack's contempt.
Throughout, Miller mistakes attitudes for character. Overnight, Rose goes from doting daughter to vengeful sociopath. Oh, the stunts she pulls with a gun, a snake, and, later, some old home movies up in her dad's defunct acid pad.
This girl might have been fascinating had Camilla Belle lent her any ferocity or individuality. But like a lot of actresses who play teen bohemians, Belle applies so much airiness to her character that she never registers as a person.
It's hard to tell from Day-Lewis's spirited but weathered performance whether Jack understands the mess he's made of his daughter.
Both the actor and the filmmaker seem unafraid to paint Jack and Rose into a corner: She's allowed to act like a jealous girlfriend without his asserting the parental authority to correct her.
Jack's antiauthoritarianism seems to extend to his role as a father. What conviction the movie has is spent lamenting the vanished '70s hippie philosophy, rather than explaining or developing its characters.
None of these folks are wise, or smart, or captivating, though they'd probably beg to differ.
If only Miller's writing had some human zest. Nearly everybody here is crunchy, salt-of-the-earth organic, and off in a dreamland. They can't come up with meaningful personal insights, but they do seem capable of opening a cooperative supermarket.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.