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Sad Stories about Sad People with Pathetic Dreams
by Matt Forsman on Mar 31, 2006
After striking out at walking dogs in New York, Jim (of the lonesome varietal) grudgingly returns home to the bleak, barren wasteland that is rural Indiana. Not exactly the cheeriest of guys to begin with, Jim's funk becomes even more pronounced upon his homecoming. A lost soul, Jim trudges through his daily existence with the enthusiasm of a barely cooled corpse. It sounds bleak, but director Steve Buscemi manages to turn Lonesome Jim into a comedy of sorts that is almost poignant.
Almost immediately you find yourself wondering why Jim's (Casey Affleck) in such a foul mood. One could hypothesize that his failure to "make it" in New York had something to do with it, but the depths of Jim's self dubbed "chronic despair" (a wonderful euphemism for major depression) indicate it's something more than a failed stint as a dog walker in New York.
Jim's home life in Indiana is not exactly idyllic, but it's not the ninth ring of hell, either. So, his mother (wonderfully played by Mary Kay Place) is a bit overbearing and oblivious, but there's no question she loves Jim dearly. Jim's dad (Seymour Cassel) is a bit distant and taciturn, but he's no monster.
It is in this context that Jim's "chronic despair" becomes absurd and in turn, comical. Jim is blessed in a myriad of ways, but is so enormously consumed with his internal "sturm und drang" that he can't see the forest for the trees. Life can feel like a futile and frustrating exercise sometimes (okůMOST of the time), but Jim's got a family, he's got a home, and is not living on the streets.
When Jim's not going through the motions working at his parent's ladder factory, he manages to connect with the attractive and charming Anika (Liv Tyler) at a bar. Anika and Jim's courtship is a wonderful example of opposites attracting.
Anika is a searing beam of radiant sunlight next to Jim's perpetual darkness. There really is no other explanation for why a woman as attractive as Anika would enjoy the company of Jim. Maybe the sex is REALLY good, but that's not the impression one gets (at least not from their first attempt).
Meanwhile, Jim's perhaps equally depressed brother Tim ends up in traction due to an "accident" (a wonderful euphemism for attempted suicide) thus forcing Jim to take on familial responsibilities that have never really been his forte. One of these responsibilities involves coaching a girl's basketball team that couldn't beat a team of blind, deaf, mute quadriplegics.
Jim's efforts at coaching are laughable, but at their last game of the season he summons a rallying cry that would make Patton weep. While the team doesn't win, they do manage to score a single basket (unprecedented in team history). It is in the scoring of this single basket, that we see an enthusiastic and happy Jim for the first time and perhaps the first inklings of hope.
Lonesome Jim is the kind of quirky, character driven comedy one would expect from a perennially talented character actor like Steve Buscemi. It's the kind of film that will likely struggle to find an audience as the tone of the film is so dark at times it could be mistaken for a drama by some. The film unquestionably has some hysterically funny moments. But, the lack of clarity around Jim's (and Tim's for that matter) perpetual funk is somewhat unfulfilling. Likewise, Anika's attraction to Jim is just not believable. However, Lonesome Jim is worth a view for those who like their comedy on the dark side.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
by Matt Forsman on Mar 31, 2006
Casey Affleck as Jim, images courtesy of IFC Films
Liv Tyler as Anika
Mary Kay Place as Jim's mother and Kevin Corrigan as his brother Tim