2005Director: Steve Buscemi
Cast: Casey Affleck, Liv Tyler, Mary Kay Place
im (Casey Affleck) is a casualty of the middle twenties, what Kerouac called “the beat and evil days” (hence the moniker “Beat Generation.”). Hendrix, Basquiat, Breece D’J Pancake, one of the screenwriter’s aspiring writer hero’s writer heroes… all dead by 27. Jim is 26 “going on thirty” and, sadly, neither talented nor the brightest bulb on the tree.
A Hoosier hoser.
Where to start? If you go on the basic assumption that a movie has a point to make or is made for a reason—it seems to me an inescapable premise of just about any creative enterprise—and considering the difficulty of actually funding an independent movie, stars shmars, it’s a head-shaking wonder and a crying shame to see how much time, talent, and energy was wasted on such a superficial, half-baked, lame-ass script like Lonesome Jim. The reasons for making this movie, quite apart from the phone-it-in effort the script would require of a dim and lazy director, escape me. If there’s a point—and, since nothing happens by accident in a script, it’s got to be the desired one—it’s: “a loser, who’s the product of losers, from Loserville, can choose not to lose, lose, then choose to lose, lose, accept that he’s a loser, be happy to lose and be a loser and live the rest of his loser life in Loserville.”
But… he… gets… the… girl…!?! WTF?
And, basically, in the grip of The Dream, in the shadow of The Stone Colossus—the pantheon of great modern writers he idolizes—Jim throws caution to the wind, girds his Will and… cowers, shrivels and dies. Twice. Once at the beginning, once at the end. The circle of cowardice is complete.
Are we really supposed to buy into the Heroics of Slacker meltdown, here? Feel for these www-eak characters? Identify with their Lilliputian struggles? Swap mood for substance? Believe?
Don’t blame the actors… most of the performances are completely respectable. Low-budget, but respectable. There are moments of genuine tenderness, humanity, humor. Mary Kay Place as Jim’s devoted, doting, cobbler-cooking, Amway, Tupperware, Prairie Home Companion moms, Sally, is a wonderfully, blissfully bland victim. Seymour Cassel as his father, Don, is discreetly, believably insignificant. Mark Boone Junior as his conniving, dope-dealin’, hooker-lovin’, parasite, scumdog, hippy redneck, trailer-trash uncle, “Evil”, is beautiful. And Liv Tyler’s Anika, the single malt-loving single mom nympho nurse muse doofus is lusciously plain Jane.
The director even did a nice job. And Casey Affleck is a pleasure to watch.
But you just don’t care.
The sad truth is that in spite of the fact that Steve Buscemi is one of my favorite actors, he’s responsible for this flop. It was less a poor choice of script than poor development. And writer James C. Strause is an embarrassment to the writers he supposedly pays homage to in this gutless, meandering melodrama. That too harsh? Go waste ninety-one minutes of your life and tell me otherwise. Or read this 1972 interview with Richard Yates, supposedly one of Jim’s idols, by DeWitt Henry and Geoffrey Clark. It will explain what the screenwriter was attempting to do but hopelessly fails to do: make Failure the inevitable outcome of certain doomed undertakings, the result of certain noble/ignoble crapshoots, the worst case scenario, the off chance, the dreaded consequence of genuine risk, the bitter pill that heroes are sometimes force-fed by Fate.
Lonesome Jim fails as a film about failure. How’s that for the ultimate Gen X triumph? Pathetic? Garshk, thanks… I guess!
Romantic glorification of Failure horrifies me, like the Hollywood portrayals of homeless people as Gilligan-esque “n’er-do-wells.” Homeless people are poor, sleep in piss-stinking gutters, are beaten, raped, drink cleaning products for a buzz, get AIDS and tuberculosis, eat out of the garbage, die pitiful, pointless deaths alone. And while it sickens me to even think of mentioning a healthy but dysfictional semi-privileged, corn-fed white kid from the Rust Belt in the same breath or comparing the tragedy of one to the other, loss and failure of any kind are painful, agonizing, humiliating and, sometimes—often? usually?—fatal. Especially when you’re stupid and young. Something Tim’s brother, Jim’s (played by the one-dimensional Kevin Corrigan), vehicular suicide attempt is supposed to remind us of and something he’s driven to—har har—when Jim compares his tragic but supposedly temporary state to Tim’s permanent and terminally worthless condition because he’s divorced, makes a buck over minimum wage at thirty, lives at home in order to pay his two daughters’ child support, is going nowhere s-l-o-w and is miserable as a result.
Suicide is a big theme and Jim does a body count of the writers on his wall who’ve succumbed for his casual sexbuddy, dunce Anika (whom we’re supposed to believe he’s not interested in and who is pursuing him… yeee-eah.) The only thing more depressing than the celebration of Failure, of course, being the celebration of Death. Always shooting off at the mouth Hemingway features prominently, but given the shallow context it might as well be Margaux Jim’s talking about. And Jim’s appreciation of a writer’s significance seems to be predicated solely on his (and Sylvia Plath’s) Talent-versus-Death Wish ratio, excluding Melville and Poe and Twain and Faulkner and Fitzgerald and Steinbeck and Wolfe and Raymond Carver and Andre Dubus and Peter Taylor and Jean Stafford and Brian Moore and, and, and… xenophobically, Joyce and Flaubert and Cervantes and Calvino and Goethe and Dostoevsky and… all of whom died of natural causes. And then there’s the living, of course, like… I dunno, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, maybe…? Fucksakes, what a crime. What a retarded, sophomoric crime.
Film is Art. Art is noble. Film is also expensive. And Time is short, people. “… Life is short, nature is hostile and man is ridiculous but with a certain humour and a little horse-sense it is surprising what can be made out of something which is after all a matter of very little consequence,” said W. Somerset Maugham. “Easy affirmations are silly and cheap, of course; but when a tough, honest writer can look squarely at all the horrors of the world, face all the facts, and still come up with a hard-won, joyous celebration of life at the end, in spite of everything, that can be wonderful,” said Richard Yates.
A loser doesn’t get the girl. The loser gets burned by the girl, TOO, and goes down in flames. Something the writer sets us up for all along but wimps out of at the literal last minute. Lonesome Jim shortchanges the audience by kiting checks on the philosophical bottom line, the moral payoff and the emotional money shot… in an independent film?
You make a film about Losing, the hero has GOT to lose… everything. Which makes us want to LIVE!
By: Chris Panzner
Published on: 2005-12-12