by Jef Burnham
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Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters, HBO’s Oz) is at the peak of his talents in his portrayal of Jake, a man who chose homelessness a long time ago and never wants to go back. The film is the work of first-time filmmakers Matt Miele and Chris Fetchko, and is a film which may have felt more at home in the 1980s, with its pleasantly dated score and its focus on the streets of New York rather than the high-rises; but its light-hearted approach to delivering a message is needed today more than ever. Too many films depress audiences about social dilemmas, making them feel apathetic rather than invigorating them about a cause, but not Everything’s Jake.
Jake plays his bongos for tips and occasionally steals dog feces from well-to-do dog walkers, charging them up to five dollars to throw it away. He makes his weekly trek to the library to make sexual innuendoes (checking out suggestive books, such as Moby Dick and the poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) from the beautiful librarian, who lets him check out books, though he doesn’t qualify for a library card. Jake reluctantly befriends Cameron Dunn (Graeme Malcolm), a three-week homeless guy who sleeps in the trees of Central Park. Jake, with the help of his friends Abe (an eccentric alcoholic) and Ms. Vicky (a former showgirl played by Phyllis Diller), shows Cameron the ropes, teaching him everything from homeless etiquette to where and when to relieve himself.
Everything’s Jake takes an objective look at homelessness, the various causes and effects for the epidemic, and the ways in which the uninformed masses view these issues. Add to that the already colorful cast of characters including a singing hot dog vendor, a security guard who doesn’t know the North Pole from the South Pole and a cabbie whose dreams are ruined when they scratch his taxi (Doug E. Doug), and you might find yourself returning to the film again and again. Aside from the superfluous bit of opening narration, the film has very few problems that aren’t compensated for by the strength of Hudson’s performance and the goodwill garnered by the filmmakers for their sense of humor and their lack or preachiness regarding the subject matter.
Seven years after the film’s completion, Everything’s Jake finally made its way onto DVD in the fall of 2007.
Jef Burnham is a writer and film critic living in Chicago.
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