The Bright Side of Darkness

Lonesome Jim

Casey Affleck, Liv Tyler, Mary Kay Place, and Seymour Cassel star in a film written by James C. Strouse and directed by Steve Buscemi.

Reviewed by Josef Woodard

Little things count for a lot in this cool and evocative “small” film directed by Steve Buscemi, right down to the small town — Cromwell, Indiana — where the comic-drama unfolds. Meet our anti-hero Jim (Casey Affleck, all tousled, mopey charm), a wannabe writer suffering from “chronic despair,” who returns to his hometown from a failed sojourn to N.Y.C., penniless and with tail-tucked-between-legs.

Jim’s suffering-artist vibe is an empathetic hook in the film — not yet 30, he’s still young enough for that quality to be appealing instead of pathetic. But strained family relations makes for a main plot turbine in the beautifully understated screenplay by James C. Strouse (an actual Hoosier). Between a hyper-cheerful mother (Mary Kay Place), grimly pragmatic father (Seymour Cassel), and quasi-suicidal loser brother (Kevin Corrigan), life in Cromwell is far from free and easy.

Light seeps into the cracks of Jim’s soul courtesy of a free-spirited nurse (Liv Tyler), who turns the allure of a love interest into potential salvation. Dark-ish humor keeps rearing its head, as when the brother is fed pork rinds after emerging from a coma. Late in the film, Jim gives an odd pep talk, in his usual monotone, to a win-less girls’ basketball team: “Why do we play at all? … It’s a stupid question, asked by a doubtful and unhappy man. You’ve got to keep playing, because if you don’t, you might end up like him.”

Remarkably, in Buscemi’s controlled, wit-lined hands, the film is less gloomy than uplifting. Languid and laconic, but warm where it counts, Lonesome Jim is a refreshing change of pace — literally, pace — from the usual feelgood show business outta Hollywood.

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