The Jimmy Show

on December 13, 2002 by Annlee Ellingson
   Frank Whaley's follow-up to the 1999 Sundance film "Joe the King" is largely set in a comedy club, but make no mistake--it isn't a comedy. Jimmy O'Brien (Whaley) works a thankless job stocking groceries, pilfering Pabst Blue Ribbon in retaliation for his daily humiliation. His marriage to a beautiful girl, Annie (Carla Gugino), suffers from the pressures of life with his invalid grandmother and a new baby daughter. Jimmy's only outlet is open mic night at the Laughing Stock, where he vents his frustrations. "They have to listen," he says. "They don't have a choice."

   Eventually Annie, miserable living in a house where the drapes are always closed and a grumpy old woman throws beer cans at the babysitter, divorces Jimmy. At first he can't let go, dropping by her mother's place in the middle of the night, inquiring into her social life, asking her out on dates. It's not until Annie decides to move to Delaware that, given no other option, he finally says good-bye.

   Whaley is at his finest in his scenes at the comedy--or, in his case, tragedy--club. His powerfully delivered monologues articulate his frustrations about his thwarted dreams and his hopes to someday still fulfill them. He sees a mountain climber and wants to be him, asking out loud why he doesn't just go out and scale a peak. Yet, again and again, he doesn't. It's at the club, too, that he's the man he wants to be, confronting and embarrassing his hecklers like he can't his bosses at his succession of dead-end jobs selling fireplaces, dishing up fast food, manning a parking lot.

   Whaley's performance is earnest and often riveting, but he should have taken a few lessons from his peers at amateur night. A joke here and there would have gone a long way toward lightening up this sad sack, and, as they say, "laughter is the best medicine" for a life full of sorrow. Starring Frank Whaley, Carla Gugino, Ethan Hawke, Lynn Cohen, Jillian Stacom and Heather Bucha. Directed and written by Frank Whaley. Produced by Mary Jane Skalski and Beni Atoori. A First Look release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 93 min

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