September 11, 2006
With the underrated Gerry (2002) and now Lonesome Jim (2005), Casey Affleck makes another bid to get out from under his brother’s famous shadow and acquire some leading man credibility. And what better film than one directed by consummate character actor Steve Buscemi who has a few modest and nicely understated directorial efforts under his belt.
Jim (Affleck) returns home to live with his folks after failing to make it in New York City (walking dogs apparently) as a writer. They live in one of those sleepy, mid-western towns where nothing much happens. His brother Tim (Corrigan) coaches a grade school girls’ basketball team, badly – they don’t know how to shoot or even dribble the ball. He too lives at home, divorced and very unhappy.
Jim has no real direction in life and spends the day watching television and sleeping. He tries to avoid the bars where every guy he went to high school with frequents and settles on one where he meets a pretty nurse named Anika (Tyler). After Tim gets into a car accident and goes into a coma, Jim feels responsible and wracked with guilt so he takes over his brother’s team. He also gets a job at the factory that his mom and dad own, working with Uncle Stacy (Boone Junior) who also deals pot while maintaining a relationship with Anika and her son.
On the surface, Jim’s parents (Cassel and Kay Place) seem happy and perpetually optimistic, but underneath exists deep dysfunction, especially where Tim is concerned. Lonesome Jim examines the root of Jim’s unhappiness and, like his brother, it stems from his parents.
Casey Affleck plays Jim so laidback that he might as well be in a coma like his brother. He claims to suffer from chronic depression. It’s a very minimalist performance as Jim is someone who is sleepwalking his way through life. Affleck is very understated and conveys things with his eyes and facial expressions.
For Jim, life has been a series of disappointments and Buscemi seems to be drawn to these sad, flawed characters that have to make some tough, life-altering choices – Tommy, the barfly in Tree’s Lounge (1996) and Ron, the young inmate in Animal Factory (2000). In this new film, Jim’s salvation lies in Anika’s persistent optimism. This is an incredibly low key movie mirroring the attitude of its protagonist. There are no earth-shattering epiphanies which is kind of refreshing. Lonesome Jim doesn’t follow the usual beats of a Hollywood film and avoids most of the clichés. It’s about the small victories in life, the little moments that make it worth living.
There is an audio commentary by director Steve Buscemi and writer James C. Strouse. They actually shot the film in the same small, Indiana town where Strouse grew up. In fact, Jim’s parent’s house is actually the house Strouse grew up in. Buscemi related to Strouse’s writing and the dead-pan humour. The track starts off slow as Buscemi states the painfully obvious, reading some of the credits. He tells a few anecdotes, some of which are interesting but the track does pick up a little as it drags on.
“Making Lonesome Jim: A Promotional Featurette” is an extra that originally aired on IFC with Buscemi and the cast talking about the characters and the film itself with lots of clips from the movie.