Judge Brendan Babish would love to give Jim something to really cry about.
Change your outlook. Change your life.
Popular character actor Steve Buscemi (Fargo) has quietly been putting together an impressive résumé as a director. Following on the heels of a successful four-episode directing stint on The Sopranos, Lonesome Jim is Buscemi's third feature film.
Facts of the Case
Jim (Casey Affleck, Ocean's Twelve) is a disaffected young man who returns unannounced to his parents' home in small town Indiana after an unsuccessful stint as a waiter/dog walker/writer in New York City. Shortly after arriving home Jim harshly criticizes the futility of his older brother's (Kevin Corrigan) existence. Soon after this exchange, Tim—the older brother—jumps in front of a moving train. While Tim recuperates, Jim embarks on an affair with Anika, a comely nurse, and begins working a monotonous job at his parents' factory. Jim's melancholia initially seems immune to any human intervention, but perhaps love will be able to break through this young man's hard shell of apathy and self-importance.
Lonesome Jim is one of the first films I have seen that attempts to document the life of a twixter. Twixter is a recent neologism for a young person who is trapped betwixt adolescence and adulthood. Twixters are generally in their mid-to-late 20s, live at home (or are financially dependent on their parents), and have trouble motivating themselves for a full-time career. The popular impression of twixters is one of lazy, rude and apathetic young men with poor grooming habits. Lonesome Jim not only does nothing to dispel this myth, its whole purpose seems to be to reinforce it.
In fact, the titular Jim is such a slacker, such a dope, such a wastoid (to use the vernacular of a previous generation) that he has few, if any, redeeming qualities at all. He may in fact be one of the most disagreeable leads I have come across in some time. In one of the film's early scenes, Jim corners his 32-year-old brother Tim—who is divorced and also living at home—to admonish him for being so pathetic. This attack is harsh, completely unprovoked and leads directly to Tim's suicide attempt. After hearing that his brother is in a coma—for which he is at least partially, if not fully, responsible—Jim shrugs it off with disturbing indifference.
Earlier, Jim meets the lovely Anika at a local dive bar. After a brief, awkward conversation the two inexplicably end up shuffling over to the hospital—where Anika is a nurse—for one minute of bliss on a hospital bed. From this initial uninspiring encounter, Jim, who is upfront about his penury and depression, proceeds to earn Anika's affections through apathy and sexual rapacity. While this may be a fair representation of small town courtship—though I doubt it—women with the charms and allure of Liv Tyler can't be snared by gross disrespect and the promise of financial dependency. But more importantly, I don't know why I should care about this relationship when Jim himself is so bored with Anika he can barely keep his eyes open.
I hate to write off an entire film because of a single weak character, but Jim is in nearly every scene of this film. If you find him unpleasant this is going to be a very tough movie to sit through. Not that Lonesome Jim doesn't have some redeemable features. Buscemi shot the film in the screenwriter's Indiana hometown, and this combined with a great cinematographer and favorably unpleasant weather give the film an authentic small town look that Zach Braff can only dream about. Additionally, Mary Kay Place, who plays Sally, Jim's doting mom, and Mark Boone Junior, as Jim's sketchy uncle Evil, give lively, humorous performances in a film desperately in need of levity. But ultimately, Lonesome Jim does not divest enough in subplots—such as Sally's brief, intriguing time spent in jail—to overcome a protagonist whose about as fun as a wet blanket on a cold night.
Genius Products has done a fair job with this DVD release. Lonesome Jim was shot on a mini-DV camera, a cost cutting measure after the film's budget was slashed from $3 million to $500,000. This produced a dim, grainy print that's actually fitting for the look and feel of a movie chronicling a depressed man in a small town. Still, this is probably the worst film to use to show off that new 60" plasma TV (through no fault of Genius Products). The DVD does include a making-of featurette and commentary from Buscemi and the movie's writer, James C. Strouse. The featurette is short and contains only a few snippets of interviews with Buscemi and supporting cast members (Affleck and Tyler are conspicuously absent). The commentary—like Jim—is pretty subdued. Mostly, Buscemi discusses the mundane aspects of filmmaking ("We didn't change much about the house, except we did paint the walls blue.") while Strouse points out the many aspects of his family life that he drew upon for the film. Still, I've been a fan of Buscemi's work—both acting and directing—and even though I didn't care much for this film, I enjoyed hearing him discuss his work.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If Lonesome Jim was an interactive film, and the audience was allowed the option to slap some sense into Jim, I might have enjoyed the movie a little more. As it is, this is just an unpleasant movie about a dope who whines and moans about his uniquely exquisite pain. Hey Jim, we all got problems.
Much like Buscemi's debut feature, Trees Lounge, Lonesome Jim lacks a strong storyline, but is able to authentically depict the small torn ennui better than any major motion picture could. Both films also feature depressed protagonists whose lack of direction and ambition can at times be maddening. The big difference is that Trees Lounge injects enough humor and conflict to keep us interested and entertained, while Lonesome Jim just sort of mopes along like a sulky teen. Also like a sulky teen, spending an hour and a half with Lonesome Jim proves to be a trying experience.
Guilty. Now cut your hair and get a job.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
• Commentary by Steve Buscemi and Writer James C. Strouse
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