Saturday, July 29, 2006

Lonesome Jim, a film by Steve Buscemi

Steve Buscemi has made it his life's work to play losers, losers like Seymour in Ghost World who are actually great guys but just out of step with the contemporary way of doing things, so they can still have an appeal, because there are those of us who will identify.

I found it harder to identify with his creation, Jim, because for the larger part of the movie, he was simply too bleak a character. He went to New York to try his luck but, out of money, out of hope he comes back home to some small town in Indiana where all the bars are called Kiki's (Kiki appears late in the move in a throway line - she is in prison). He can't think of anything worse than living the kind of compromised life his parents have (particularly his mum - there's a fairly strong sub story developed about the loss of freedom being married has had on her). So, when he does come home, he is in the pits of despair, can't see anyway out, and he all but stays in that mode.
Sure, it gives him attitude and some good lines: such as when he says he came back for a nervous breakdown, but his brother beat him to it, and when he asks his brother how he's managed to stay so long without killing himself. But it is very easy to grow tired of such a fellow.

Most people as they grow up have pictures of their idols on their wall: Jim is no exception, but all of his idols are writers who have killed themselves. He sees himself as part of a club of pathetic people with pathetic unacheivable dreams. So, of course, when he meets Anika (Liv Tyler) in a bar (Kiki's III), their relationship is characterised by a complete lack of fizz: their first attempt at sex seems to be over in less than a second. Equally of course, his feeling of having no purpose in the universe is gradually replaced by a sense of place, alongside Anika and her young son, Benjamen. That is the essential trajectory of this movie: she brings him out of himself. So, yes, the story was all a bit obvious.

Sure there are a few sub-plots, such as Jim taking over as coach of the kids' basketball team his brother had been coaching - the team has not taken a basket all season, and if you think having a profound depressive like Jim is good for team spirit, you'd be wrong - although it was very funny the night he just gave up and told the team to do whatever they liked. Then there was the strange story featuring his trailer trash uncle, who's selling drugs through Jims' parents' factory, leading to a police bust. This was also an important step in Jim's coming alive, as he was faced with doing something vital: spill the beans on his uncle to get his mum out of jail or once again avoid his obligations as a human being.

But the joys in the movie were the attention to detail in the cinematography, the fine characterisation of some of the supporting cast (although dad was pretty much a stereotype) and the gentle way in which humour would be emoployed to stop the story getting too bogged down. The movie is an interesting companion piece for Ghost World: in that movie, Enid can't find any sort of purpose in her life at home, and so we see her at the end catching a mystical bus to the end of the rainbow. We also see Jim getting onto bus at the end of Lonesome Jim but he's not on it for long.


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