2006, R, 91 min. Directed by Steve Buscemi. Starring Casey Affleck, Liv Tyler, Mary Kay Place, Seymour Cassel, Kevin Corrigan, Jack Rovello, Rachel Strouse, Sarah Strouse.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 28, 2006
The unforgettable character actor Steve Buscemi has been developing a solid sideline career for himself as a director during the last decade. Lonesome Jim, his third feature film, is a portrait of a sad-sack loser and calls to mind his first film Trees Lounge, in which he also played the chief loser. In Lonesome Jim he doesn’t act, and instead directs a dream-come-true indie cast in this minimalist comedy with a sly sense of humor that isn’t always readily apparent. Despite its charms, Lonesome Jim never feels fully formed. Initially, the characters are presented intriguingly, but as the film progresses they are not, and the whole thing starts to grow stagnant. The film conveys as strong a sense of its suburban Indiana locale as Trees Lounge does of its titular neighborhood bar or Buscemi’s other film Animal Factory does of its prison setting. The screenplay is the first by James C. Strouse, and despite it being clear the themes and archetypes that attracted Buscemi to the story, the finished film features vaguely defined characters that never become fully believable. It begins as 27-year-old Jim (Affleck) stumbles off the bus and creaks toward his parents’ home, returning to the nest penniless and broken-down after failing to make it in the big world as a writer. (Curiously, though this is his stated ambition, he never seems to do any actual work.) His excessively cheerful mom (Place) and dour dad (Cassel) take him back, and for a time he at least feels superior to his brother Tim (Corrigan) – a divorced, suicidal father of two – who also lives with their parents. “I’m a fuck-up, but you’re a goddamn tragedy,” says Jim to his sibling before Tim deliberately crashes his car into a tree, surviving yet nevertheless relegated to a full body cast for the rest of the picture. Nurse Anika (Tyler) enters the scene and helps set up the possibility for Jim to finally experience love and an adult relationship. For the time being, he has taken over coaching his nieces’ pathetic basketball team and tries to be a good sport toward Anika’s young son Ben. He also begins working at his parents’ ladder factory, where he comes into contact with his uncle Evil (Mark Boone Junior, who almost steals the whole show as an outsized character amid a story of smaller personalities), who is dealing drugs from the factory floor. Tyler, for her part, is playing another variation on the cuddly caregiver she played in Jersey Girl with Casey Affleck’s big brother Ben. Lonesome Jim is an interesting but unsuccessful study, although viewers should be cautioned about falling victim to its malaise.