Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Lonesome Jim

by Colin
Last night, I was luck enough to attend the New York premiere of Steve Buscemi's Lonesome Jim. It played at the Chelsea Clearview West, which is a really nice, older theater, which actually has stadium seating for it's best screen, which is where the premiere played. When I arrived, I was really shocked at how lax the security was. I just went up, said I won a contest through the New York Observer, and they let me in even though I wasn't on a list. There wasn't even anyone checking for recorders or worse.

As my wife and I entered the theater, we saw a row reserved for Liv Tyler, followed by a row for Buscemi, followed by one for Seymour Cassel. So, we sat on the aisle sets behind the Cassel row. Soon thereafter, we see a guy walk in with an older woman. And the guy looks just like Buscemi. It's actually Buscemi's brother walking their mom in, but damn, the resemblance is striking. Buscemi's mom says, "Aww...they were taking photos of Steven," and I know it's time to hit the concession stand.

As I walk out, I see the press taking photos of Buscemi and Tyler. She looks better than I've ever seen her in a film, and, with her four inch heels, she towers over him in a black dress. I walk to the back of the concession line, and Buscemi starts to make his way over to the line. He walks up to everone in line and starts shaking their hands. He seems like a really cool guy, and he's been one of my favorite actors since 1992, when I saw Reservoir Dogs and In the Soup. The latter film also starred Seymour Cassel, and they seem to like to work together as Cassel has been in all of the feature films Buscemi has directed.

The first of those was Those was Trees Lounge, a nicely observed piece of smalltown melancholy, and Lonsemome Jim is very much in the same vein (today's Village Voice review even dubs it Plains Lounge). It stars Casey Affleck as a 27 year-old New York dog walker cum Applebee's waiter cum failed writer who moves home to Indiana to live with his ladder company owning parents because, well, he's got no place else to go.

I make my way back to the theater, and Cassel soon sits directly in front of us. He was great as the dad in Rushmore, and I wonder if he will give a similar performance as Affleck's dad in this one. Anyway, what I notice now is that he's tearing into his popcorn and seems really famished. Liv Tyler soon comes in and sits a few rows directly in front of us. She comes off as she has in her interviews: very nice and soft spoken, making sure that everyone around her is comfortable.

The President of IFC comes up and says how great it was to work with Steve, and Steve comes up and comes off as very modest. He notes how it was an honor to direct the great script from Jim C. Strouse, who is now directing his own movie, Grace is Gone. Buscemi notes that the film is based somewhat on Strouse's life, but it is also fictional, most notably in the fact that Strouse is now a success. He points out that Strouse's parents are in the audience, and has them stand up to applause.

Then, the film itself starts. It's shot mostly with a handheld digital camera and looks appropriately grainy. Buscemi's dircetion never overwhelms the material, but he employs some nice camera angles and shows an affinity for really tight shots that place us (sometimes uncomfortably) close to the action. Not that there is much action. Instead, this is a nicely understated comedy/drama of ennui with laughs that seem genuinely unforced. Some will undoubtedly compare this to Zach Braff's Garden State, but this one is a lot less self-consciously wacky.

As Affleck's overbearing and somewhat cluesless mom, Mary Kay Place (Being John Malkovich) nearly steals the show. If you liked Anne Meara's turn in The Daytrippers, you'll probably eat this performance up, and her interplay with the droll Cassel as the father hits the right notes. Meanwhile Mark Boone Junior (Memento) is great as Affleck's sleazy uncle as he takes his character in several directions you wouldn't expect.

There's also some really nice interplay between Affleck and his even more depressed brother, played by Kevin Corrigan (Walking and Talking). And Tyler, as Affleck's sort of love interest, is charming as always, although it would have been nice if her character were a little more fully developed. Affleck himself is very understated as Jim, and not very likeable. For me, this made sense in terms of the character, but I could see others being put off by it.

The mostly instrumental soundtrack, including a lot of harmonica, seems to be a nice match for the movie. And the actual Indiana locations and $500,000 budget make it feel authentic, rather than a bunch of kind of big actors roughing it.

Overall, this is probably my favorite movie of the year so far, but it's not a movie I recommend for everyone, especially if you're not into small town, slice of life movies. But if you are, I'd say to give it a shot, especially when it turns up on IFC.


Blogger Brian said...

I'm moderately looking forward to this. Kinda liked Trees Lounge for what it was. And I've always liked Liv Tyler more than most people I know.

I'm a little worried about Casey Affleck though. He seems too obvious a choice.

3/22/2006 10:40:00 AM  
Blogger Colin said...

I think Casey Affleck will be the big sticking point for most people. I thought he did an okay job; my wife didn't like his performance at all.

3/22/2006 11:45:00 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

In the few roles I seen him in, I've liked Casey Affleck better than his brother.

Otherwise sounds like a film I'd like. Probably won't go see it in theatres, though.

Always found it pretty easy getting into screenings, as long as one knows where they're held. Continued to get invitations to screenings two years after I'd quit the job as film critic for the local student radiostation. The clerks at the cinema recognised me, so they'd just let me in with a nod every time. Quite nice. Short walk from home, too.

3/22/2006 12:01:00 PM  

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