Liv Tyler, Casey Affleck, Mary Kay Place, Kevin Corrigan
"Lonesome Jim," the latest film directed by Steve Buscemi, will most likely either bore you to tears or have you slumping over in your chair, letting out a deep sigh and thinking "When did Steve Buscemi meet my family?"
The story of, well, Lonesome Jim, is a rather morose tale for much of the film before Buscemi offers us a very un-Buscemi like happy ending. The film is yet another in the recent string of films that address the challenge of making in the big city AND also the challenge of returning home once one has failed in the big city.
In this case it is Jim (Casey Affleck) who returns home to Goshen, Indiana to live with his mother (Mary Kay Place), father (Seymour Cassel) and brother (Kevin Corrigan) after returning home from his failed attempt to become a writer in New York City. Goshen is portrayed, somewhat unfairly, as a pit of a town. Buscemi's film often feels like Indiana on a cloudy day...dark, gray, windy, and deeply resigned to always being this way. The film is based upon a screenplay by Jim Strouse, a native Hoosier, and his script offers up a darkly comical view of life in the heart of Indiana's Amish country.
"Lonesome" Jim feels like a less hopeful version of last year's indie fave "Junebug," which garnered Amy Adams an Oscar nomination. Whereas in "Junebug" the characters seemed in denial of their miserable existence, in "Lonesome Jim" they seem to almost embrace their menial existence. On a certain level, this makes "Lonesome Jim" a more effective film in that it's hard for most people to watch a film such as this one and imagine their being even a remote chance of denial about living a miserable life. In "Lonesome Jim," Jim seems acutely aware that he was miserable before he left for New York City, he failed in New York City and, now, he's back in his hometown where seemingly nothing has changed.
The scenes where Affleck and Corrigan banter back and forth over who is leading the most miserable life are funny, insightful and sad. Into this mix comes Anika (Liv Tyler), a nurse and single mother who seems to wrap herself around Jim in both a loving and protective way. Tyler is a revelation in this film, as it suits her quiet, quirky presence and demeanor. She exudes "nurse" despite nearly everything Jim throws at her, including a tour of his childhood room where he shows her various photographs of writers...all of whom either killed themselves, were addicts or simply miserable in some other way. The relationship between Jim and Anika feels like a less intimate version of that between Zach Braff and Natalie Portman in "Garden State." This relationship is quieter and calmer, but feels just as real.
"Lonesome Jim" is the perfect sort of film for Steve Buscemi to direct. The film features unique, yet richly human characters that it's nearly impossible not to care about despite the depth of their flaws. Nearly every character in "Lonesome Jim" is that dysfunctional friend you'd love to get rid of, but they're just so damn loveable that you can't make yourself tell them to get lost.
The performances are, across the board, remarkably strong from Affleck's sad, yet oddly insightful Jim to Mary Kay Place's terminally cheerful mom. As the much more sour, detached father, Seymour Cassel offers just the right amount of cynicism without becoming a caricature, while Corrigan is a wonderful match for Affleck.
"Lonesome Jim" will play most favorably for those with whom it resonates internally. Its slow pace, often sad atmosphere, and meandering quality can be maddening unless you truly know these characters. Buscemi did wisely choose a more upbeat film score that counteracts the sadness and keeps the film from becoming too much of a downer.
With "Lonesome Jim," Buscemi again proves himself one of Hollywood's most underrated and under-appreciated talents. While Jim is practically destined to be lonesome at the box-office, here's hoping "Lonesome Jim" finds more popularity on DVD.