As far as directorial debuts go, Just Jim is a damn good one. Craig Roberts of Submarine and 22 Jump Street fame – apparently as Spencer in Jump Street… I dunno either. I’m guessing you also spent the whole time staring at Channing Tatum? But in case you’re having trouble placing him, he’s the Welsh kid from Tracey Beaker and Young Dracula.
Set in Wales in what appears to be the 1970s, but mixed with hints of the decades that followed, we can see that the mise-en-scène was telling us something (you know how films like to do that) about the village Just Jim is set in; locked in time, unable to move on and, more importantly, unwilling to. Setting the particularly drab scene very well.
Jim is your run of the mill ‘different kid’, bullied, beaten, and downtrodden. Roberts plays this excellently, aided a lot by his acting talent, but also a lot by the fact that his face is, in his own words, “very round” and nowhere near as structured as his devilish companion, Dean (Emile Hirsch). Hirsch is given the character of “cool American dude come to swoop in and make the bumbling valley boy as cool as an American”, thus finally proving to the world that Americans are 1000% cooler than the Brits; I mean thank God someone finally said it!!
But despite this slightly cliched plot point the rest of it is marvellously original. To be honest Roberts’ spin on the familiar story-line is pretty refreshing anyways – probably because he’s Welsh! The scenery of the film is beautifully bleak, the kind of shots you’d see on Countryfile, of rolling hills, and babbling brooks, but the tone of the film turns it all into this warped version of what we’re seeing; our eyes are tricked in to seeing beauty as beast, and idyllic as isolated.
You can expect the clever shots you’d see in most Indie films – this one actually funded by BBC Films, but lets go with Indie! There’s the two-shot of one person, often expressing an empty space. The handheld slo-mo following shot that follows a character down a road (over the hills, and far away), only for them to look back over their shoulder, rain falling; and everyone gets a hipster hard-on for the meaning and artistry – present company included. But that’s why we love these films, and that’s why we keep coming back to them. The lighting of this film was clever, a lot of single lit scenes, a lot of shadow, and unless Wales is genuinely that grey then the whole thing seems to have been graded just a little bleaker.
There are a few scenes thrown in that I’m guessing you could class as meta but they didn’t really fit in or mean anything – which is the exact description of what meta is, right? However, these scenes bugged me a bit; they seemed unnecessary and on the whole just style over substance. Roberts was most probably playing safe, and sticking to the artsy-fartsy-Indie-windie rule booky-wook – Russel Brand‘s new autobiography about how no one gives a shit about him anymore. Which is understandable considering this is his first go at it, but most of the underwater scenes could’ve been cut, and it seems ridiculous to even have to mention that this film has underwater scenes… or is it a reference to Submarine? Ohhhh Craig Roberts you clever meta-mother.
So as I was saying the underwater scenes really were a stroke of artistic genius; worth the ticket price just for them alone.
I didn’t know what to expect from the film, it’s billed as a comedy and the blurb we were given at the screening made it seem like a pretty standard buddy movie. So when I was greeted with distant parents, stylised sets and dialogue I thought, “ah, it’s a dark comedy!” And what with being very trendy I was well prepared to laugh at vaguely humourous exchanges and shots of people eating a Mr. Whippy by a recycling bin that’s been graffitied with the words “FUCK OFF.” But thankfully, I didn’t have to. The dialogue, acting, and graffiti in this film are all genuinely very funny and require no sense of irony to be able to enjoy.
But this is where Just Jim lulls you in to a scene of false security, I was snuggled in, popcorn in hand (I had to provide my own), ready for the UK’s answer to Superbad. But my friends, this never happened.
In reality what I witnessed was a portrayal of socio-psychopathy, betrayal, and mind boggling. Every time you think you’ve got it sussed you’re just flat out told “WRONG! go again… WRONG!” I took AS-Level psychology, I’ve read American Psycho and Fight Club, so when it comes down to psychoanalytical pieces of film or writing I’m quite well versed – as in two books and half an A-Level better than you are! But even I, one of the great thinkers of our time, couldn’t quite figure this one out. Never fear though, as thankfully you’re not left in the dark and (nearly) all is revealed as the film goes on. Dean’s real intent with Jim, what’s up with Jim’s parents, and more importantly what’s up with Jim!
Just Jim is a brave, emotional, exciting, joy of a film; all its faults and cliches can be forgiven, mostly for the sheer enjoyment of it. Roberts, if he can keep it up, is well on his way to establishing himself as Britain’s best unknown talent, maybe never having the success of a Benedict Cumberbatch or Eddie Redmayne but with just as much talent and probably even more diversity. Emile Hirsch knocks out another solid Emile Hirsch performance – playing an American, incredibly – a role he was born to play! Just Jim won’t break records and it probably won’t ever get the coverage it deserves, but if you are given the opportunity to see it, then I urge you to grab that chance and clear your schedule – although at a running time of 84 minutes I wouldn’t take the whole night off.