New Movies -
Old Movies -
Jesus’ Son (Alison MacLean) 2000
Funny, low-key, and touching, Jesus' Son is easily one of the best films of the year. Based on a novel by Denis Johnson, the film tells the story of a drifter (Billy Crudrup, in an nomination-worthy performance) we know only as “Fuckhead.” The film’s set in the 70’s in Iowa City and actually feels like it could have been made during the 70’s. The film has the small goals of many of that decade's best works, and is able to expertly achieve those goals. This is unlike something like Almost Famous or Boogie Nights which looks back at the decade with a knowing sense of irony that permeates even the set design and costuming. This film's aesthetics are closer to a genuine 70's film such as Five Easy Pieces.
Like that film, Jesus' Son doesn’t pander to its audience, and doesn’t condescend toward its characters. Fuckhead tells the story through a series of vignettes remembered through a drugged haze. The details aren’t specific, and feel a little kludged. What’s important here are the feelings. The first half of the film tells the story of his relationship with Michelle, (a fantastic Samantha Morton) the woman who turns him on to heroin. They are codependent, and at the same time, unable to be together. FH gets his name since he manages to fuck up anything he touches, so it’s little surprise that their relationship is doomed. Their scenes together maintain a real sense of innocence, which is odd since they’re both far from innocent. Usually, a portrayal of lowlifes as innocents would have me frothing at the mouth, but I'm bothered by it here.
The second half of the movie deals with FH’s road to recovery. We are spared any scenes of substance withdrawal, showing that the conflict here isn’t between FH and a chemical. It’s between FH & himself. FH’s problem isn’t that he’s on drugs. He is able to kick that habit. It's that he’s a drifter. He simply accepts the events in his life, and if things stop being easy, he moves on. The film realizes that is a much harder habit to kick. The film never falls into the main trap of most drug films… There’s basically a midpoint in every drug film where either the characters begin an ugly descent or they begin to recover (which results in the end of the cinematic thrill of the hit and typically begins audience boredom and directorial speechifying). FH chooses the latter path, but the film maintains its tone (which is an odd mix of comedy, meditation, and rambling : suitable for FH's character). The hallucinations that dotted the first half of the film don’t stop, rather they take on a higher meaning as FH finds himself. Every vignette in the film works. The cast is stellar. Beside the two leads, there are fine turns by Holly Hunter, Dennis Hopper, Jack Black, and Dennis Leary. I was pleasantly surprised to find a drug film that maturely treated drugs not as an obstacle to overcome, but rather a stepping-stone on the path to selfhood.
* * * ½