Jesus' Son Movie Review
After several shots of rotgut to wash down the uppers, downers and endless fuel of smack, bleary eyed Wayne asks FH if he wants to make a couple bucks to pay for the drinks they're gonna have later (we realize it's only mid-afternoon by this point.) They meander off to a nearby house and proceed to rip the copper wiring out of the walls. "Yep," Wayne chuckles. "This ought to be worth forty bucks - enough to get drunk tonight. Heh heh."
This is only ten minutes of Alison Maclean's whimsical junkie movie, Jesus' Son, which drifts from one anecdote to the next. Our unreliable, rambling narrator, FH (brilliantly acted by Billy Crudup), regards everything he sees with a bemused detachment, whether it be munching on his cornflakes while Michelle (Samantha Morton) shoots up after sex, or taking a part time job as a hospital orderly in the emergency room among fellow pill popping losers who raid the cabinets, desperate for a cheap score.
We're given a series of episodes in FH's life in the mid-'70s, and unlike most films which dwell in this sort of seedy world, it never judges the lives of its main characters. In fact, FH invites us to laugh at their pathetic little lives holed up in cheap hotel rooms, passing the time with sex and drugs, or telling long stories about their failed love lives and immediate goals of getting wasted.
The characters are lovable without being "quirky", meaning they ring true. FH encounters several personalities throughout, and each actor is given the opportunity to shine in honest, lived in performances. Wayne, the guy who rips the copper wiring out of the walls of what may or may not be his house, is played by a surprisingly restrained Denis Leary, for whom most of the fire has gone out. Underneath a sad sack moustache, Leary gives his most haunted performance.
Just as good is Jack Black, fresh from his acclaim in High Fidelity, as Georgie, who drives around with FH popping pills as they seek a place to camp out in the open air one night. He's given the most surprising scene in the movie after they run over a rabbit on the road, and he whips out his knife saying that they will feast tonight. This unseemly behavior transforms into something profound and miraculous in one of the film's first of many small epiphanies.
While the film doesn't follow the traditional rules of storytelling (feeling more like a series of faded super-8 films strung together on a string), the offbeat themes and sketches offer glimpses into a world. Maclean is attentive to the look of their ragtag, colorful clothes (including striped yellow underwear or natty brown leather coats two sizes too big), the gray and empty rooms with filthy beds and noisy springs - maybe a TV playing in the background if they haven't sold it yet, and the dreamy cinematography of Adam Kimmel which purposefully allows certain images to blur or shift in and out of focus like memories.
The screenplay (and assured editing) move backward and forward in time as FH tries to sift through his thoughts about Michelle, often going on long tangents as he stumbles to keep on track. Thankfully, he manages to take exciting detours with Leary, Black, Holly Hunter and a hospital encounter with Dennis Hopper, of course, playing a cheerfully grumpy addict who offers a descriptive and strange tale of a former wife who shot him in the face years ago.
Billy Crudup takes center stage in the film playing a passive character with graceful strokes. He's always present in his scenes with the other actors, listening, eyes roving around nervously and breaking out into his infectious grin. Maclean found the perfect actor to embody this lovably clumsy sod who's got one foot on the highway and another in a puddle. While it ultimately doesn't amount to more than an amusing shaggy dog story, Jesus' Son is simply two hours in the life of a F*ckhead, with an eye for details and nuance that reveals the underlying humor beneath the lives of the sad, the tattered, the broken and the pathetic.