Monday, May 01, 2006


As it says in the blog header, cinema is a favored medium in THE DESERT OF THE REAL.

In 2005, a film entitled "Lonesome Jim" was filmed in and around the Author's hometown, Ligonier, Indiana. The film is in limited release and the Author saw the film. And he has been given the opportunity by Bob "C. Dobbs" Buttgen, editor of the Pulitizer-Prize winning weekly newspaper, the Advance-Leader, to write a review of the film for the newspaper.

The review has not yet been published, nor screened for compliance with the Advance-Leader's high standards. But, subject to copyright protection that may be waived or thrown away, here is the review.

Lonesome Jim
Reviewed by Rob Feightner

Home is where they may not leave the light on for you, but they will leave the backdoor key under a rock in the yard. But enter carefully because they have moved the furniture. And put in a sunken living room.

Lonesome Jim stars Casey Affleck as Jim Roush, a dog walker, writer, and Applebee’s worker that failed in New York and trudges back to his dysfunctional family in his dreary hometown. His brother is suicidal, his father (Seymour Cassel) distant, and his mother (Mary Kay Place) an overly doting Kool Aid mom for whomever gets dragged in.

The opening of the film takes the viewer, Jim, and Tim (Jim’s dead-end brother played by Kevin Corrigan) down a corridor of dread. Under the skilled and deft direction of Steve Buscemi, the opening sequences are grainy, claustrophobic and unsteady. Jim is going to the elephant graveyard and finds he must wait in line to lie down and die. But there is hope. And lots of black humor. And some excellent dialogue and acting amongst the supporting cast.


Jim’s hometown is “Cromwell”, Indiana. Cromwell is the fictional name of Goshen, Indiana, the screenwriter, James Strouse’s, hometown. Plainness, low-sun grayness, and intersections blocked by freight trains envelope the town. Some local readers of this Review will recognize the “fail to launch” feeling of this small factory town

Jim’s first night out is at three local beer joints, Riki’s I, II and III. The third dive is the charm where he improbably hooks up with Anika, a nurse at the local hospital. They have a couple of whisky shots and a very quick “evening” together. But then it is back to banality, and a promotion to factory work, for Jim.

Jim, at the request of his mother and the demand of his father, takes a job at the family business. Jim must fill in for his brother Tim, who wrecked his car in a failed suicide attempt. At work Jim reunites with his Uncle “Evil” who uses the family business as a front to sell drugs.

“Evil” is a cartoonish lout expertly played by veteran character actor Mark Boone Junior. Evil, who rides a moped and dates hookers “because they are cheaper”, soon ensnares Jim in his drug business and what will become some of the loose plot of this mostly character driven movie.


When Jim’s brother Tim crashes his car and is left comatose, Jim takes over as coach of Tim’s girls basketball team. The team is even more inept than Jim or Tim, having failed to score any points all season. But it is the kids that boost Jim’s climb back from up catatonia.

The screenwriter’s nieces, Rachel and Sarah Strouse, play Jim’s nieces and basketball team members. Jack Rovello plays Ben, Anika’s son, and Jim’s pal and emergent surrogate father. The young actors deliver good performances. Not too precious, not too precocious, and generally played to perfection.

And it is within and throughout these shifting family dynamics that Jim restages. A man-child to a cloying mother, another shiftless son to a stern father, a dupe to a low-life uncle, it is only by looking out through younger eyes that Jim’s depression begins to break. And he reconnects with his family.


Some of the humor is subtle, some endearing and some laugh out loud. But the film is not for the Dumber and Dumbest demographic. The film, like Jim’s lugubrious character, slowly warms from absolute zero. Jim’s mother (Mary Kay Place) is played as oblivious treacle. Liv Tyler’s inflectionless “freshness” is greatly miscast as Anika. The character of Anika, who is described by her son Ben as a “whisky woman”, lacks the wear and tear that would accrue to a bar stalking single mom in a Midwestern industrial town.


The Reviewer would be remiss if he did not address the setting and props of the film. The film is shot in Goshen, Ligonier and Cromwell, Indiana. The Cromwell recreation center gym was the Reviewer’s junior high school gym. Most scenes will be recognizable by viewers in the Advance-Leader circulation area.

Many film critics found the film’s setting as depressive as Jim’s character. Or more so. One reviewer stated that every local chamber of commerce in Indiana should disavow the film because of its bleak portrayal of rural Indiana. Another called “Cromwell” the intersection of “Nowheresville” and “Stuck for Life”.

In some sense, the “Three Walls” of the film, the limiting confines of rural “Cromwell”, stepped out of the “Fourth Wall” and engaged the Reviewer directly. The Reviewer was born and schooled in “Cromwell” (Ligonier). But since leaving “Cromwell”, the Reviewer has experienced life, career, and unique cultures in ways not possible if he had remained in that small town and within those Three Walls. This is not to denigrate nor miscast that small town, nor any small town. It is more to acknowledge, as Jim Roush might, that homes are anywhere in the world where you can walk in late at night and raid the refrigerator. They change with the zip codes, but they remain, with all features and faults, forever someone’s.

Lonesome Jim was seen by the Reviewer at the Century Theaters Downtown in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is rated R for strong language, sexual content, drug content and partial nudity.

Rob Feightner

[i] The Fourth Wall is a theatrical term for the dramatic separation between the actors on stage (who act between the ”Three Walls”, the back and side walls of the stage) and the audience. Actors rarely “break” the Fourth Wall, or step out of the stage action and directly address the audience. But when done effectively, it is engaging and asks the audience to employ a high degree of critical thought and engagement. A good example is the 1938 Pulitzer Prize winning play “Our Town”. In “Our Town”, a character called the Stage Manager frequently speaks directly to the audience about the characters and the fictional town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire.

Actors can also step out of the “Three Walls”. In the Mel Brooks comedy homage to the Western, “Blazing Saddles”, the actors engage in an old-West Style Chase across the Hollywood studio lot. Similarly, in “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure”, studio cops chase bicycle mounted Pee Wee through several films shooting on adjacent sets and across the studio lot.