Not fun or cheery.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"Depression is melancholy minus its charms-the animation, the fits." Susan Sontag
Bug-eyed Steve Buscemi as an actor demands we keep our eyes on him, be he Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs or Tony Blundetto on HBO's Sopranos. His magnetism may come from insecurity in the shell of an out-there dangerous weirdo. But as a director Buscemi doesn't grab attention as much as require an audience to be strange enough to enjoy loser, slacker guys whose boredom and inactivity are as palpable as the audience eyes that regularly peek at watches hoping the boredom will soon be over.
In Lonesome Jim, Casey Affleck plays feckless Jim, who's returning home to Indiana as a failed writer recently walking dogs for cash in Manhattan. It's surprising this character could get up the energy to hold a leash much less unleash imagination to a page. If Affleck is not this affectless in real life, then he's a great actor; if he is this torpid anyway, then let's wish him the same fate as his brother, who thankfully has been absent from the screen of late.
Buscemi listlessly creates a world where Liv Tyler's nurse is a welcome respite from slow-talking, slow-moving friends and relatives. Now Tyler is not the most dynamic actress, but her love of her own small boy and her growing love of little boy Jim provide the only energy in a low-voltage cast. Even the basketball team Jim coaches has been unable to score a single point all season.
Yet maybe the director has succeeded in creating a world so boring that while not art is at least realistic. Mary Kay Place's mother, Sally, is so optimistically out of touch that she makes friends with inmates she has a hard time believing are criminals. As suicidal as Jim and his brother are in their depression, Mom is clueless in her optimism. Buscemi is expert at limning the realities of a middle America imprisoned in their destructive delusions.
Although Buscemi's Tommy in the acclaimed Trees Lounge has many of the loser qualities in his Lonesome Jim character, Tommy retains a hope of overcoming his alcoholism and regaining his ex wife. Jim has no such hopes nor does the film have characters interesting enough to survive the boredom on both sides of the screen.
Liv Tyler's Anika says to Jim, "There are so many fun and cheery people in the world. Don't you think you'd be better off with one of them?" The same could be said about the film: There are far more fun and cheery films than this terminally depressing study of ennui sans art. See Garden State or Trees Lounge for successful depiction of characters Roger Ebert rightly calls "sad sacks."
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com