LONESOME JIM (Buscemi, 2005. US)

Posted: 12/04/2010 in The Verdict
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Lonesome Jim (Buscemi, 2005. US)

Masturbatory self-pity when pretensions of brilliance forgo decency.

Lonesome Jim does exactly what it says on the tin- it’s all about Jim and his lonesomeness. This film has been subjected to a fair deal of hate on the webs, and rightfully so really. The eponymous Buscemi-lite drifter is one of the most unlikeable protagonists to grace indie screens in recent years. Not in an uncomfortable-yet-necessary way, as we might find in a Noah Baumbach flick, or in a misunderstood-and-redeemable manner, ala Wes Anderson. Nope, Jim is just a prick. Consequently he  spends a lot of time on his jack jones.

There are some redeeming notes scattered about hither and thither, the only vestiges of Buscemi’s direction. As a character, I would have enjoyed watching Jim had he been played by a late 20s Buscemi in his trademark slightly socially incompetent sad sack routine. I like Affleck, especially in 2005’s Gone Baby Gone; he is a prime example of my slowly-evolving Hollywood theory: The Rule of Diminished Siblings. This is where the less famous/bankable sibling in a famous acting family is always a far better actor and quite often a more likeable person. Cf Casey Affleck, Joseph Fiennes, Joan Cusack, Rory Culkin… erm, Emilio Estevez. [Okay, every rule has its exceptions! Sx]

Jim is so unredeemingly selfish and ungrateful that I really don’t care how his life turns out, to be honest. We’ve all been there; most of us know what it feels like to realise you’ve come to nothing and despite the fact you thought you were different, you’re really nothing special, just  like everyone else. The disappointment of having to move back to your shithole hometown with people you thought you were long shot of and live with your parents again after that hard-won independence would take its toll on anyone, but I doubt many people would show the disrespect and frankly cruel disregard Jim inflicts on his poor mother. As the narrative reaches its climax all I hope is for to Jim do the right thing, but his cowardice and indifference seem insurmountable.

***Minor Spoiler*** Rather improbably Jim manages to pull Liv Tyler who, although still playing herself, seems to have graduated from high-pitched, kooky and sexually aware shrewd/disingenuous young women, to worldly-yet-apparently-breezy single mothers (we’ll ignore One Night At McCool’s as a wormhole-related exercise in miscasting). Seems she just ain’t the marrying type. She basically reprises her Jersey Girl role with a little addition, and she knows more than Jim what it means to be disappointed, the knowledge that one’s dreams are now and forever out of reach, but she bears it with rather more grace, humility and maturity than he does. Well that’s a woman for you.

Jim seems to be the product of the GenY slacker movie movement and that very American mania for ‘following your dreams’ and insisting everyone can make it. Obviously they can’t, so there must be a lot of very disillusioned late twenty-somethings bumming around smalltown USA, bitter about falling for the hype. This overgrown, unkempt brat is the bastard offspring of Holden Caulfield and Martha Stewart. Which is a rather distasteful thought in itself. In case you hadn’t picked up on it- I really didn’t like this fella, despite (or possibly because of) having much common ground. He wants to die a tragic hero, with his great works preserved for future generations of thinkers and outsiders. Okay, I can see that. And he thinks he deserves someone far too good for him, even though he makes no effort whatsoever. Yep. But he tells uncomfortable home truths with no thought of the potential consequences and seems to have only the vaguest notion of morality. He’s somewhat autistic in that respect.

With Buscemi I would have expected more observational and offbeat humour. Jim’s pitiful sexual performance, while an endlessly overused joke really, does still raise a smile (if nothing else) but there doesn’t seem to be much else to amuse and I’m generally of the darker laughs persuasion. Maybe Jim’s behaviour is supposed to make us laugh in disbelief, but he isn’t outrageous or obnoxious enough for that, he’s just realistic enough to be true and the truth is- this guy’s a bell end.

There may have been hidden meanings in redundancies such as Jim’s quests and requests for a drink of water at various, occasionally inappropriate moments in the film, but then again, there probably wasn’t. The symmetry between the opening and closing sequence is also more of structural note than narrative interest. So while it fits well with the American slacker/drifter indie subgenre, it is a lesser of the species, charting slightly below Jesus’s Son and well below Buscemi’s Trees Lounge.

I did really enjoy the way Jim’s mother’s story turned out and the revelation of his father’s betrayal of inaction answers many questions about Jim came to be the man-child he is today. All in all though, give it a watch if it’s free and there’s nothing else on [thanks iPlayer. Sx] but don’t bother buying it unless you’re a completist. If you’re seeking a cinematic testament to disappointment, you could do worse than Broken Flowers or The Cooler, both starring men old enough to really know what that means, for realistically flawed and complex people negotiating smalltown miasma and family politics, the incomparable Junebug or the considerably more adult Laurel Canyon[1] and if morose homecoming replete with ‘kooky’ local oddballs and a trendy indie soundtrack is your bag then obviously you’ve got Garden State. Liv Tyler definitely would have played the Portman role a few years earlier. A British equivalent would probably be something über-dark like Dead Man’s Shoes or… well we don’t really do this kind of film really.

So that’s my verdict. Jim’s lonesome for a reason, the reason being no one wants to be his friend. Can’t blame them.

[1] I’ll accept the Hollywood Hills is hardly smalltown, but you get the point.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s