|Lonesome Jim (2006)
Starring: Casey Affleck, Liv Tyler, Mary Kay Place, Seymour Cassell
Director: Steve Buscemi
How exactly do you make a comedy about depression? Well, you don’t. That hardly puts a restraint on a filmmaker’s decision to include a little bit of humor, though, especially when using it as a buffer for some pretty serious issues. Perhaps one of the best and most recent examples of this is Zach Braff’s “Garden State,” which features its share of darkly comedic moments amidst a somber backdrop of depression. In the case of Steve Buscemi’s “Lonesome Jim,” the subject matter doesn’t necessarily require any humor, but it certainly helps to keep the film's 91-minute runtime from feeling like two hours.
Jim (Casey Affleck) isn’t even as lonely as the title would suggest. He’s got a loving family back in Indiana that he returns home to after failing to jumpstart a writing career in New York. And while his mother (Mary Kay Place in a career-defining role) and father (Seymour Cassel) are both happy to see their baby boy, his older brother Tim (Kevin Corrigan) is less than pleased about the surprise visit. If possible, Tim is even more of a colossal fuck-up than his younger brother, a recent divorcee who works a minimum wage job and lives at home just so he can afford child support for his two daughters. And so it’s no surprise when Jim hears about his brother’s passive-aggressive suicide attempt, crashing his car into a tree while driving home from coaching his daughters’ recreational basketball team. As Jim puts it later in the movie: “I sort of came back to have a nervous breakdown, but my brother beat me to it.”
As the story progresses, Jim gets romantically involved with Anika (Liv Tyler) - a nurse who single-handedly raises her young son - and also spends time with his deadbeat uncle, Evil (Mark Boone Junior), a man dripping in so much immorality that he’s discovered to have been using Jim’s parents’ start-up business as a front for shipping drugs. This is all pretty standard stuff for the average independent feature, and despite Buscemi’s efforts at making the film appear original and thought-provoking, it doesn’t really stand out amongst all the other art house flicks released in the past decade. This isn’t meant to be an indictment of Buscemi’s work, because along with his seasoned career as one of the great character actors, the Hollywood vet is also shaping up to be a very promising director. The criticism is in the story itself, which doesn’t offer anything that indie moviegoers aren’t already used to seeing replicated time and time again.
Truth be told, if Kevin Smith had made “Jersey Girl” only ten years prior, there’s a pretty good chance it would have turned out exactly like this. In fact, not only do both films share a few similarities in the whole boy-meets-girl-with-a-kid storyline, but they also feature the uninspired casting of Liv Tyler opposite one of the Affleck brothers – Ben in “Jersey Girl” and Casey in this film. Back in the '90s, Liv Tyler was all the rage when it came to playing the sweet, girl-next-door type, but she’s more than outstayed her welcome. When are we going to see the actress tackle something a little more demanding, and more importantly, something a little different? Maybe it’s not Tyler’s fault, though, but rather that of the industry. Perhaps the question I should be posing is this: when are independent films going to tackle something a little more demanding?... something a little different?