Lonesome Jim

on March 24, 2006 by Francesca Dinglasan
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In "Lonesome Jim," flyover country once again is the target of big-screen mockery, albeit with subtle tenderness and ultimate affection for the people populating the setting. Featuring Casey Affleck as a Midwesterner forced to return home once he's unable to support himself in the big city, the film's most winsome quality is its slow exploration of the eccentricities of a Heartland family--both as individuals and through their interactions with one another.

Affleck is the eponymous Jim, an aspiring writer with a tendency toward melancholic withdrawal. Returning to his native Indiana town from New York City in tears, he is greeted by his doting mom Sally (Mary Kay Place), indifferent father Don (Seymour Cassel) and resentful brother Tim (Kevin Corrigan). Sibling rivalry between the two adult brothers takes the form of out-sulking each other, until Tim ends up driving himself into a tree and breaking both legs following Jim's casually pessimistic assessment of his brother's life. Pressured by his father to help the family by taking over the recovering Tim's duties, Jim reluctantly begins working at his parents' ladder factory. Family black sheep Uncle Stacy (Mark Boone Jr.) also works there, where he secretly operates his small-time drug-dealing business. Additionally, Jim is convinced to assume Tim's duties as coach to the winless elementary-school girls' basketball team, at the same time as he is attempting to pursue a romance with pretty nurse and single mom Anika (Liv Tyler).

Anchored by dry humor and purposefully understated performances, "Lonesome Jim" steadily builds in charm as it progresses. Penned by Midwesterner James C. Strouse, the film displays an uncanny sense of place, from the Hoosier State town bars that literally repeat themselves to the long-stretching roads. Seemingly flat characters, moreover, reveal an increasing amount of depth as the story unfolds--Place's matriarch, in particular, turns to be much more emotionally complex than she initially appears. And though Affleck's protagonist might be a tad too dour for many moviegoers, others are likely to identity with his artist-seeking-that-elusive-something in life.

When coaching his oft-defeated and discouraged basketball team of nine-year-olds, Jim asks them, "Why do we keep playing the game?" In turn, he provides the answer, "That's all we can do." As probably the most atypical big-screen "locker room" speeches of all time, the monologue embodies the subdued existentialist query at the heart of "Lonesome Jim." Starring Casey Affleck, Liv Tyler, Mary Kay Place, Kevin Corrigan, Seymour Cassel and Mark Boone Jr. Directed by Steve Buscemi. Written by James C. Strouse. Produced by Galt Niederhoffer, Celine Rattray, Daniela Lundberg, Jake Abraham and Gary Winick. No distributor set. Drama. Rated R for language, some sexuality and drug content. Running time: 87 min

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