Lonesome Jim

| August 18, 2006

A precarious anti-hero who’s been beaten to a nervous breakdown by his older brother; an overly sweet heroine who doesn’t match the hero; crazy drug-addled friends, medicated relatives; a precocious little boy – yup, Lonesome Jim is an art flick. Under the guidance of Steve Buscemi, who directs like he’s making the unpretentious version of Garden State, this lo-fi love story strips the stigma from artsy films by relishing in the awkward moments of life itself. Buscemi knows what he’s doing with his beautiful long, wide shots of Goshen, Indiana; his makes his work too real to be pretentious – these are not impressionistic swoops of landscaping; they’re hard, grainy textures of the land itself. This style more than meshes with James C. Strouse’s minimalist script and is a work that relies more on environment than text, one that allows much of life to be, as it always is, implied.
As for the cast, Casey Affleck is overly apathetic as the downtrodden slacker, and though Buscemi captures his anguish in shadows or his capture through reddish plastic, he doesn’t have the range of the rest of the cast. His winces, his grimaces–they seem put on, rather than experienced, and the joy that’s supposed to creep out of him, his acceptance (rather than his resignation) of life, that’s simply not there. Kevin Corrigan, who plays his brother, does far more from the constraints of a bed, pissing into a plastic bottle, and his mother, the magnificently subtle Mary Kay Place, nails the stereotypical overbearing Midwestern mom without ever playing the stereotype. Liv Tyler looks like a goddess in each frame, even when grainy, which makes here as ethereal here as in Lord of the Rings. It’s a creepy effect somewhat modulated by her character’s down-to-earth son, the irrepressibly cute Ben (Jack Rovello). It’s just not perhaps the right effect.
On the other hand, Mark Boone Junior, who plays drug-dealing uncle Evil, is a menacing thug who uses his gruff yet always perplexed demeanor to coast through scenes. The antagonist of this film is the invisible force known as emotion, but Evil is an aptly named manifestation of that stress, especially when his illicit activities start to have repercussions on the family’s factory. Unfortunately, these plot points have little bearing on what Buscemi wants to focus on, and the world of Lonesome Jim has no consequences (which, in turn, makes the film somewhat inconsequential).
This film is just a love story, filled with wishful thinking. And who can blame Buscemi for wanting the depressed loner to find perfection? In some ways, this is retribution for all the times Buscemi, in one role or another, has been shit on. Ultimately, the earthy, stark tones and the muted sounds and colors make Lonesome Jim as much a reality as a fantasy, and that effect is interesting, even if isn’t always avidly entertaining.

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