Lonesome Jim is a little known indie gem by Steve Buscemi. It centres on perpetually depressed twenty-seven year old Jim (Casey Affleck) as returns to his small town home in Indiana after having failed as a novelist in New York.
What works well about Lonesome Jim is that Steve Buscemi has a knack for telling stories about life’s low points. Lonesome Jim is all about failure and not living up to the expectations of life. Jim is not the only failure in his family. His brother Tim (Kevin Corrigan) is also not living the life he expected. In fact, Tim is very much central to the story. Tim attempts suicide after Jim tells him how badly he has failed at all of his life’s dreams. Through this suicide attempt, Jim meets Anika (Liv Tyler) a nurse who treats Tim. A relationship develops and through this, Jim starts to slowly learn how to be happy with the life he has.
The narrative to Lonesome Jim starts off intriguingly enough. Buscemi has a knack as a Director for developing his characters at a slow and steady pace. The choice to set it in a small Mid-Western town in America was well thought out. Throughout the entirety of the film, Jim feels claustrophobic in his hometown, and it shows through Affleck’s performance as he feels very uncomfortable about the changes to his life. Affleck’s control over his emotions is excellent as well. Upon finding out about Tim’s suicide attempt, his facial expressions alone tell the guilt he was feeling. Not a single word needed to be said. The narrative loses steam in the third act, and no matter how solid the acting is from all ends, it’s not enough to carry the weight of the dull writing at the end.
Lonesome Jim is easy enough to enjoy. Buscemi has a real understanding about how subtle humour should be employed in cinema. However, sometimes the writing was too subtle; some of the jokes got lost by simply trying too hard. Affleck’s performance of a bored and depressed Jim enables him to deliver his lines with absolute perfection, which makes him a real joy to watch at times. However, a weak soundtrack and cinematography crippled the enjoyment of this film. Considering Lonesome Jim was shot on an extremely tight budget, the soundtrack is nearly non-existent, with maybe one or two tracks used sparingly. Shot on the MiniDV format, several scenes in low-light were very grainy, and detracted from the immersion of the film. Whilst framing was generally good, the poor-lighting and grainy footage really let Lonesome Jim down.
On the whole, Lonesome Jim was a refreshing watch. It was nice to see a film not tied down by traditional genre conventions, and especially by a Hollywood veteran like Steve Buscemi who is all too familiar with Hollywood storytelling. The themes of suicide, desperation, isolation, failure and loneliness are treated very sensitively, yet the story didn’t flow together all that well, leaving it hard to be completely drawn into it.