If you looked up “indie comedy” in the dictionary, there’d be a picture of Lonesome Jim.
It’s focused primarily on young people. The central character is a morose, unconventional fellow with a good heart. It’s character and dialogue driven, with little in the way of flash and special effects and big budget stuff. The humor is dry, and flows from the quirkiness of the characters. It’s mostly a comedy, but also has some more serious things to say about life and relationships.
The storyline is closest to Garden State of the movies I’ve written about so far, but if we’re talking more broadly about just the overall feel of the film, its other close relatives include films like Duane Hopwood, Chasing Amy, Kissing Jessica Stein, and countless others.
The film opens as the lead character arrives back in his Midwest home town after what evidently was an unsuccessful stint in New York. He settles back in with his family—mother, father, older brother—until he can decide what to do with his life.
And he manifests no particular urgency about that. He drifts along in slow motion, muttering the occasional sardonic comment, apathetic and borderline depressed, knowing his parents, especially his mother, will always keep a roof over his head and even give him money regardless of whether he bothers to get a job.
He falls into something that may or may not be a dating relationship with a free-spirited, offbeat, attractive single mother with a pretty cool little boy.
For the first twenty minutes or so, this movie was only OK for me, but then I felt myself gradually warming to it. The characters grew on me, the humor and the cleverness of the lines and the situations seemed to get a little stronger, and I ended up liking it a fair amount.
There are two characters I would single out as particularly interesting and/or funny, though really all the characters are at least fairly good.
“Uncle Stacy” is a wonderful loser, lowlife type, with a penchant for drugs, booze, dishonesty, cowardice, fraud, and low budget hookers (including at least one he calls “Stacey,” for reasons never explained). In some ways he’s the dissolute “fun uncle,” but really it’s not clear he has any redeeming characteristics at all (which doesn’t prevent him from being a riot in every scene he’s in).
Mary Kay Place is really good as the mom. She’s a pathologically bubbly, cheerful sort, who can’t say no to her grown sons and treats every occasion as the ideal time to shower them with vague flattery and pet names and baby talk.
I actually found her a lot more likable than annoying, I think because she’s so sincere. Normally I associate her kind of behavior with a person who’s phony, who is bottling up all her negativity, who will show cracks in her cheerful façade by behaving passive aggressively, etc. But what you sense with her is not that she’s forcing herself to appear as happy as possible on the outside, but that she’s actually succeeded in being that perpetually cheerful and accepting of life. There’s a sincerity to all that positivity.
Yes, it comes at a price psychologically. There’s an intriguing scene in the second half of the movie where she comes to the main character’s room to have a talk with him. However it may seem at times, she’s not in such a blissful, unaware fog as to not realize that her two sons haven’t amounted to much of anything in life as of yet, and emotionally tend toward depression if not being suicidal. So—in a smiling, unthreatening, non-confrontational way—she asks “What is it we’ve done wrong as parents to make you and your brother so unhappy?”
You sense he knows from experience just where this will go. He doesn’t really have the energy or the inclination to lie and play whatever happy talk game might be expected in the circumstances, but he also knows this isn’t going to be some extended heart-to-heart conversation where they can get deep and deal with raw emotions.
So he says—not unkindly in tone, though it’s certainly a gut shot in content—“Maybe some people just shouldn’t be parents,” and then he accepts that that pretty much ends the conversation. The mother looks off balance for just a moment, gathers herself sufficiently to offer a cheerful comment in response, and finds a reason it’s imperative she be elsewhere immediately.
I don’t know. I understand how the limitations of a person like that can make her frustrating to deal with, especially on a full time basis like having her as a parent, but there are a heck of a lot worse traits to have than an incessantly positive attitude and the ability to always see the best in people and shower them with love. She’s doing her best, and I was sorry he said that to her. Because there are many, many, many parents a lot worse than that. If she shouldn’t be a parent, then I suspect there really aren’t all that many folks who should.
And so I was glad when part of the main character’s growth late in the film turned out to be a greater appreciation for her, and I was glad he expressed that to her.
Because the movie feels so typical as an indie, it’s hard to give it any points for novelty or risk or anything like that. But what one can do is ask whether it does the familiar well. And I think the answer is largely a yes. Its quirky characters, oddball situations, emotionally deeper messages, deadpan wisecracks, etc. are very familiar in type, but above the norm in quality.
Lonesome Jim doesn’t quite reach the level of some of my absolute favorite indie films of roughly that kind, such as, say, Ghost World, but I enjoyed it at least a little more than, for instance, Chasing Amy, and substantially more than Jersey Girl, a couple of comparable Kevin Smith offerings. And I think it’s a level or two above Garden State, the movie I’ve said its plot most resembles.
Nice little “happy ending” too. And bonus points for the closing line “I thought you said you never run,” as I don’t think I would have caught the charming connection between the ending and that element earlier in the film if my attention hadn’t been explicitly drawn to it like that.