January 26, 2005
The Hollywood Reporter
Film review: Lonesome Jim
PARK CITY, Utah - The land of Goshen, namely the barren burg in Indiana, is the grim setting for this tale of despair and renewal. In these biblical terms, it's the story of the prodigal son as Jim, an apathetic 27-year-old, trudges home to dwell with his parents.
Etched in subdued hues and featuring a terrific indie cast of Casey Affleck, Liv Tyler, Mary Kay Place and Seymour Cassel, Lonesome Jim may find most hospitable company as a cable offering, as well as a DVD possibility for the indie connoisseur.
Director Steve Buscemi's hand is alternately edgy and mushy as Lonesome Jim meanders from the darkest recesses of the spirit to an atonal, feel-good finale. Indie fans who usually associate Buscemi's acting with a creepy cynicism will be mystified by the film's uplifting, studio-ish resolution. Jim, however, might be most noteworthy for the finely nuanced scripting of writer James C. Strouse, who kindles a resonant spark from the bleakest of settings and circumstance. In the end, Buscemi seemingly pushes the film's aesthetics, especially the strummy upbeat music, beyond the story's succinct philosophical duality.
Set in the gray of the post-Christmas holidays, Goshen is a netherworld that looks like neither winter or spring. Similarly, Jim's family is devoid of vitality or distinction. They are a sorry, if somewhat well-off lot: Dad (Cassel) owns a ladder-making factory, while Mom (Place) busies herself selling snacks to workers and doting on her two sons, including the newly returned Jim (Affleck) and ever-present Tim (Kevin Corrigan). All are weary, and none are happy; in fact, Tim has repeatedly tried to kill himself behind the wheel. Even by Midwestern standards, they are laconic and uncommunicative.
Permeating this flat family tract is the overall philosophical question: What is the point of going on with lives so drab? Aspiring writer Jim papers his walls with mugs of the most celebrated of the distressed writers -- Platt, Hemingway, Beckett, et al. No one connects, and Mom's incessant chirpiness and neediness only alienates them further. In this world, we never expect to see the spring.
Under Buscemi's overall smart direction, the acting is terrific. Affleck brings credible fiber to a weak-willed loser, while Tyler is warm as a small-town nurse with no hopes. Veteran indie players Place and Cassel are terrific as a husband and wife who ignore and alienate one another. Place is particularly sympathetic as a woman who tries too hard to find love and goodness within her sad-sack family. As a skull-collecting druggie, Mark Boone Junior is a blast of manic energy and evil.
Technical credits are apt and accomplished. Cinematographer Phil Parmet's stark compositions and pallid hues clue us to the characters' inner emptiness, while Chuck Voelter's Midwestern gothic production design is a deadening blend of kitsch and emptiness.
Cast: Jim: Casey Affleck; Anika: Liv Tyler; Sally: Mary Kay Place; Don: Seymour Cassel; Tim: Kevin Corrigan; Ben: Jack Rovello; Rachel: Rachel Strouse; Sarah: Sarah Strouse; Evil: Mark Boone Junior.
Producers: Galt Niederhoffer, Celine Rattray, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Jake Abraham, Gary Winick, Steve Buscemi; Director: Steve Buscemi; Screenwriter: James C. Strouse; Executive producers: Jonathan Sehring, Caroline Kaplan, John Sloss, Reagan Silber, Anna Waterhouse; Co-producer: Derrick Tseng; Associate producers: Saxon Eldridge, Emily Gardiner, Mandy Tagger; Director of photography: Phil Parmet; Editor: Plummy Tucker; Production designer: Chuck Voelter; Costume designer: Victoria Farrell; Casting directors: Sheila Jaffe, Georgianne Walken.
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