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Slackerdom is on life-support in Steve Buscemi's Lonesome Jim. While the twentynothing lifestyle of incisively witty and creative people bent on low aspirations and underachieving has been quirky and funny on film from Richard Linklater's Slacker (1991) up through Kevin Smith's Clerks II (currently in theaters), Lonesome Jim won't cut a loser any slack.

Jim (Casey Affleck) has failed to make it as a self-described aspiring writer in New York City and returns to small town Indiana to seek refuge under his parents' roof. He also failed to make a living as a dog walker in Manhattan, though that doesn't stop him from trying to impress Anika (Liv Tyler) with his professional credentials. She's not surprised he didn't reign in big money and he has to admit that he also worked at Applebee's, which doesn't quite suggest the rugged slacker individualism of his other pursuits. But it's at least a sufficiently honest confession for her to give him a chance. There's nowhere to go but up from there, but the question is how much ambition he's going to embrace.

Buscemi's own career in front of the camera is full of lowlifes, oddballs and inspired menaces from philosophizing criminals in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1992) to the petty criminal turned kidnapper in the Coen brothers' Fargo (1996) to a bowling geek in The Big Lebowski (1998). He's rarely played characters drowning in ennui and trying to figure out their place in the world. That may help explain how he's breathed life and heart into characters afflicted by life's more tedious routines and escapes. While not a box office smash when released in March, the film was nominated for the Grand Jury prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, and features very warm and solid performances by Tyler, Affleck and the several other familiar faces in supporting roles.

For Jim, moving home isn't easy, particularly because his brother Tim (Kevin Corrigan) has already done so. Whether Jim ran away from his family or pursued greater things, he's now in the same shoes as Tim, who stayed in Indiana, had children, got divorced and now has to live with his parents so he can afford to pay child support. Jim freely admits he's a screw-up, but as he says to his brother, "your life is a goddam tragedy." And in Death of a Salesman fashion, Tim promptly runs off the road, trying to kill himself behind the wheel, but he fails at that, too, and lives to suffer another day.

With Tim out of commission, Jim's dad gives him an offer he can't refuse, namely taking over for Tim in the family business. At the their small manufacturing plant, Jim is reacquainted with his uncle, who at first seems like an ally and confidant since he's usually stoned at work and clearly is a safe harbor of no ambition. He prefers prostitution to dating, claiming that it's cheaper. But this sets up what appears to be a battle for Jim's soul: the steady but painful silence of a dysfunctional family versus the anesthetized life of downwardly mobile bachelorhood. It's a lonely road, but it's predicated on killing the pain.

Since arriving home, he takes on far more baggage than he unpacks, but Anika doesn't really add to the burden. She's a single mother and not really looking for much from Jim, which he provides. Since she's a nurse at the hospital where Tim is recovering, he can't help but run into her and we can't escape that she's there to care about him.

Jim is driven less by caring than he is by guilt, and that means that in addition to taking over his brother's job he fills in as the coach of his nieces' basketball team. Given that they are deep into a season and not only winless but completely scoreless, it would seem that there's nowhere to go but up. But Jim finds that he has no clue how to coach basketball let alone motivate anyone.

Poor relations and an unfulfilling professional life don't compel Jim to change his attitudes about being an adult, but realizing that he's not much wiser or accomplished than a bunch of children is hard for him to take. Even Anika's third grade son has a better understanding of their relationship than Jim does. When Anika and Jim talk about moving away together to a city like New Orleans or Las Vegas, it's not clear whether it's a real plan or he's just blowing smoke, but she's not going to let him have it both ways.

Jim hasn't bottomed out yet though, and he hasn't decided that he wants to get his life on track. Resolving his choices has little to do with whether he's particularly ambitious or unambitious. Like Zack Braff's character in his movie Garden State (2004), Jim's just trying to feel something; anything would make him feel more at home in his own life.

Going it alone has been less of a challenge than an escape for him. With a second chance to move out of his parents house, he's at least not in such a hurry to move out on his own.

click to enlarge After slacking in New York City, Jim (Casey Affleck) has to - move back in with his parents and adjust to life back home. - 2006 IFC FILMS
  • 2006 IFC Films
  • After slacking in New York City, Jim (Casey Affleck) has to move back in with his parents and adjust to life back home.
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