Lonesome Jim (review)

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“I sorta came back to have a nervous breakdown.” So says the titular Jim (Casey Affleck: Ocean’s Twelve) to explain his decamping from New York to his home in small-town Indiana after flunking out of Life in the Big City. Flopping at his parents’ house — where his brother, Tim (Kevin Corrigan: Scotland, PA), is also bunking after a messy divorce — he is buffeted by family dysfunction and his own chronic despair conspiring to hold him back from living his own life. Full of grim visual grace notes, courtesy of actor-turned-director Steve Buscemi, and buoyed by spectacular performances, especially from Mary Kay Place (Nine Lives) as Jim’s too-self-sacrificing mom, this is an intriguing portrait of near-suicidal misery… until, ironically, it tries to lend Jim some hope. James C. Strouse’s languid script is great at tossing up soliloquies of desperation — “I just don’t know what I’m doing here. On Earth. In this life. As far as the world is concerned, people like me might as well not exist.” — and Affleck is tersely profound in their delivery, but no one seems to know where to take things from there. Jim isn’t just miserable: he’s a miserable little shit, callously cruel to those around him, and his conversion, in the end, into a Decent Person comes out of nowhere, and is completely unconvincing. We’re meant to infer, perhaps, that it has something to do with the lovely young nurse he stumbles into a romance with — Liv Tyler (Jersey Girl) makes her far sweeter than she is sad and limited, even when saying things like “I love Applebees,” so we understand what Jim sees in her. Whatever nuggets of actual humanity she perceives in him, though, remain a mystery to us.

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