Lonesome Jim

"Directed by Steve Buscemi": Four words that mean you're in for something special. Just check out Trees Lounge, Animal Factory and his Emmy-nominated episode of The Sopranos. What we cheer in Buscemi as an actor — his gift for locating the elusive details that define a life — is also there in his work as a director. Buscemi does not act in Lonesome Jim, but his sly humor and keen eye for nuance resonate in every frame. I can't recall having a better time at a movie about depression. Jim (hangdog master Casey Affleck) has returned to his family home in Indiana after failing to make it as a writer in New York. Mom (the superb Mary Kay Place) welcomes her baby back. Dad (Seymour Cassel) is far less pleased. Their older son, Tim (Kevin Corrigan), a divorced father of two, is also back in his old bedroom and working in the family business. "I'm a mess," Jim tells his brother, "but you're a fucking disaster." The remark drives Tim to suicide. He fails. So is Jim worth saving? Anika (Liv Tyler), the nurse who takes this morose premature-ejaculator to bed, gives it a shot. Working from an artfully autobiographical script by James C. Strouse, Buscemi refuses to take any character at face value. That includes Jim's drug-dealing uncle, Evil (a hilarious Mark Boone Jr.). Lonesome Jim is minimalist to the point of vapor, but Buscemi — a poet of the maladjusted — makes sure this deadpan delight finds its wily way into your heart. No tricks. No tears. But, damn, it gets you good.

Peter Travers' new book, "1,000 Best Movies on DVD" is available now.

From The Archives Issue 311: February 21, 1980
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