Reviewer: David Swindle
Last week over a dozen campus groups at Ball State banded together to bring in popular comedian and gay rights advocate Margaret Cho for a free performance.
In both the remarks of Bruce Daniels - the great comedian who always opens for her - and Margaret’s initial comments it was clear that they knew all about Muncie. It’s a criticism that any sane Ball Stater would agree to as well as most other adolescents throughout the state: There is nothing to do here! This place is dead!
And while that mildly offensive stereotype is not 100 percent true, for the most part, it’s a safe bet to say that most communities in Indiana are somewhat lacking as far as social activities go.
It’s this environment, this atmosphere, and this emotion that director Steve Buscemi invokes so well in "Lonesome Jim."
The film takes place in Goshen, Indiana to which the prodigal son returns. Jim, 27 (Casey Affleck,) is a failed writer who struggled in New York City and has returned to his Midwestern family. Happiness does not necessarily follow, though, given that his family members are more or less as dysfunctional as he is. The only real passion comes from a developing relationship with single-mom Anika (Liv Tyler.)
As it sounds, the film is not particularly plot-driven. It introduces us to a group of interesting, entertaining characters, and then allows us the opportunity to enjoy or think about the results.
Buscemi is the right director for this kind of material. If the name does not ring a bell then the face certainly would, he’s been in almost a hundred films and TV shows in the past 25 years. "Oh he was a little guy, short and kinda funny lookin.," was the repeated description of him in the Coen Brothers’ masterpiece "Fargo." Buscemi also appears in "Reservoir Dogs," "Armaggedon," and as Tony Blundetto on "The Sopranos." Point being: this is a filmmaker who can act and who can deal with actors.
This is his third independent film. The first two -- "Trees Lounge" and "Animal Factory" - are comparable to "Lonesome Jim" in their focus on characters and acting. Now, whichever way that a filmmaker approaches a film - the element they’re most talented or interested in - will leave an unmistakable mark on the film. Directors who originated as screenwriters are different from directors who began as actors.
Generally, acting-driven films are more intimate and simplistic in their cinematography. Of all three of Buscemi’s films, "minimalist" could aptly describe the look. And it’s effective. In Goshen, Indiana, you do not need massive crane shots or quick cutting. You take your time and get intimate with the characters. And it’s for that reason that one can enjoy "Lonesome Jim" even during its sadder moments.
It may be depressing when something bad happens to a character that you like. It’s depressing in a completely different way, though, when you could not care less.
The film Lonesome Jim is playing at the Landmark Theater in Indianapolis at Keystone at the Crossing.