My good friend Rob calls them ‘those kinds of movies’. A term usually applied to independent films that are generally about nothing, revolving around nothing, about people who care about nothing, and take place in small towns in the middle of nothing. Actor Steve Buscemi’s ‘Lonesome Jim’, in which he directs, could be the poster child for this particular kind of film. A movie which hides it’s dullness, pointlessness, and quite honestly, it’s filmmaking ineptitude under the guise of ‘artfulness’.
Ben Afflecks little brother Casey plays Jim, a 27 year-old loathsome loser who has washed out in the Big Apple and is forced to come back home to Podunkville Indiana. (No offense Indiana, but you must really suck as a state because an awful lot of ‘these kinds of movies’ take place there). Jim has a super sweet mom (Mary Kay-Place) a doubting dad (Seymour Cassel) and an equally lousy older brother (Kevin Corrigan), who all sit around and basically don’t do a whole lot, except be depressed. As a matter of fact, Depressed Jim mentions to his depressed brother, Tim, that he would have killed himself had he been forced to live the life that Tim has lead up to that point. Tim promptly goes and attempts suicide, placing himself in a coma for a good portion of the movie. This is a comedy by the way.
Loathsome Jim eventually meets happy, super hottie single-mom Anika (Liv Tyler) who apparently falls in love with Jim for reasons I can’t begin conceptualize. More befuddling is that Anika’s 8 year-old son also begins to look up to Jim as a father figure, or something. Why? I can’t begin to say. Though I must admit, my favorite uncle was the slacker loser uncle, but he was funny when he was drunk, and he used
to give me half the candy that he would shoplift. There are a few other pointless things that are going on, but it all doesn’t add up to a heck of a lot.
Lonesome Jim is dull. There is good exploration of the characters in the film, but with the exception the Mary Kay Place’s doting matriarch, we simply don’t care about them. And I’m not sure if we even care about her, or we just pity her because her sons treat her so badly. I realize that this is a low budget film, but I’ve seen digital video features that looked way better than this. Plus the editing was very clunky and borderline amateurish. The performances, however, were very good. If Casey Afflecks character design was to make me wish he’d find a spare light fixture and an extra clothes hanger to hang himself from, then dude was spot on. Also, kudos must be given to Mark Boone Junior as the perpetually stoned Uncle Evil. Though this ‘comedy’ didn’t have that much humor, it did have a few big laughs, and Mr. Boone was responsible for most of them.
Hey look, I’m as sick of sequels, remakes, rehashes, and TV show retreads (Dallas – The Movie anyone? Seriously, they’re making it) as the next guy. But ‘art’ doesn’t have to equal ‘dull’, and ‘original’ doesn’t have to equal ‘pointless’. So instead of making one of ‘those kinds of movies’, let’s see if we can make one that somebody might actually want to watch. Okay?
Bud’s Second: There’s the cool little movie called “Garden State”, released about a year or two ago. It’s about this kid in his mid-20’s, played by Zach Braff (who also wrote and directed the movie). Likable kid, but he had a problem with antidepressants, which had been prescribed by his father and that he had been taking for years. Upon hearing of his mother’s passing, he returns home to New Jersey (from LA where he had been living since high school, as a barely-successful TV actor). Stunned to find himself in his hometown after such a long absence, he meets up with his old friends who live unique lives as gravediggers, fast food knights, and pyramid-scheme-operators. Oh, and he meets this girl named Sam (the lovely Natalie Portman), who is everything he isn’t: colorful, hopeful, and quirky. Sam helps him to come out from under the influence of the antidepressants, and open his heart to the joy and pain of life. It is a terrific movie, entertaining and funny with an indie-film feel, a heavily character-driven story with personalities that you can really sink your teeth into.
I know I know, I’m supposed to be reviewing “Lonesome Jim” and not “Garden State.” I’m getting to that: while both movies are similar and cover similar topics, one is a good movie and the other is not. If you have any interest at all in going to see “Lonesome Jim” in the theater, I implore you to go watch “Garden State” on DVD first. Then come back, and I’ll ask you some questions. Questions like:
1 - Was “Garden State” too fast-paced and exciting for you? If it was, then you should go see “Lonesome Jim”, because it’s really slow!
2 - Was “Garden State” too happy and cheery for you? If it was, then you should go see “Lonesome Jim” because it was as dark dreary and existential as any comedy I have seen in a long time.
3 – Was “Garden State” too funny for you? Did your sides hurt too much after you watched it? If so, then “Lonesome Jim” is for you because with only a small handful of funny scenes, this comedy was absolutely void of laughs.
4 – Were the characters in “Garden State” just too likable for you? If so, you should check out “Jim” because there isn’t a single character in that movie that you wouldn’t want to slap some sense into (or do worse things to) if you met them on the street.
5 – Was “Garden State” too well-produced? Did the movie look and feel too nice? Was it too watchable? If so, then maybe my man “Jim” is the answer for you, because this thing looks like it was shot on betamax and edited in someone’s basement. [Not that there’s anything wrong with that, right Chris?]
Look, the point of both of these movies is to show you the turns that each of the lead characters makes, the changes and improvements they accomplish, from the beginning of the film to the end of the film. With “Garden State”, you can see Large changing, and you can appreciate the work he is doing on himself, the pain he must go through in order to end up being a better person. But with Jim, we have a guy who was a jackass loser for the whole movie, who right at the end seems to have had some unidentified epiphany that has turned him back into a real person. What, we suffered through the first 90% of the movie watching Jim act like an insufferable spoiled asshole, only to earn the right to be told that he’s different now? What fun is that?
I understood what “Lonesome Jim” was trying to do. I can see what it was trying to be, in terms of offering commentary on some of the absurdities of life. I do get it. But I don’t believe it accomplished what it wanted to, and I didn’t like the movie. And to make that all the more painful, we have “Garden State” to compare it to. Sorry Jim, you suck!