In the darkly comic Lonesome Jim, Casey Affleck channels his best Eeyore. This moping sad-sack type is nothing new to indie film audiences; in fact, we've come to expect it (Elizabethtown, Garden State, etc.). But in actor Steve Buscemi's third directorial feature, the gloom and doom comes along with well-earned laughs.
Lonesome Jim finds the title character (Affleck) reluctantly back in his dead-end Indiana hometown with his tail between his legs after giving up on making it as a writer in New York.
But home is not where his heart is. His suicidal, divorced brother Tim (Kevin Corrigan), cranky dad (Seymour Cassel) and cheerfully smothering mom (Mary Kay Place) drive him nuts. Even his attempt at a one-night stand with a cute but ditzy nurse (Liv Tyler) turns pathetic when their quickie ends a little too quickly.
The Cleavers they ain't, but Jim's family isn't the Osbournes either. Really, Jim has no clinical or causal source for his melancholy, which may irk those who like their movies tied up in neat, pretty packages. But the unexplained and likely unwarranted nature of his funk makes Jim more interesting. Affleck may play it straight with the same depressive long face and sighs, but Indiana-native screenwriter James C. Strouse gives the character more dimension.
Strouse's script lacks overall polish, but he does well with his lead character. Jim's down, but he's no lovable loser like so many depressed-boys-come-home; in fact, he's often a grade-A asshole. He knows his no-good slacker uncle has been shipping drugs through the family business, but to avoid implicating himself, he lets his mom take the fall. And Jim insensitively tells Tim, his brother with a death wish, "Look at how far you are from everything you wanted to be. I'm a fuck-up, but you're a damn tragedy."
The luminous Tyler, like so many guardian-angel types before her (Natalie Portman in Garden State, Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown), proves to be Jim's saving grace. It's well-worn territory, but with Buscemi's penchant for the odd and Strouse's biting humor, Jim's plight makes for a gloomy, despicably fun and ultimately amusing film.
Showing at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111).
Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.