'Lonesome Jim,' Buscemi's Loveable Loser

Casey Affleck and Jack Rovello in 'Lonesome Jim.'

hide captionCasey Affleck stars with young Jack Rovello (and Liv Tyler) in 'Lonesome Jim.'

The latest directorial effort from actor Steve Buscemi presents Casey Affleck — Ben's brother — as a depressed man who returns home to nowheresville and life with his parents after striking out in New York City as a dogwalker.

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Steve Buscemi may be familiar to movie and TV audiences as an actor who plays sad eyed characters with not much going for them. For one, he's the guy who was chopped up in a wood chipper at the end of Fargo. Besides being a performer, he's also a TV and film director. His latest stint is behind the camera. In front of the camera are Casey Affleck playing a failed dog walker, and Liv Tyler. The film is Lonesome Jim. NPR's Bob Mondello has a review.

BOB MONDELLO reporting:

There's something intriguing about seeing a movie with a Steve Buscemi character in it who is not played by Steve Buscemi. Jim, who is indeed lonesome at the beginning of Lonesome Jim, is a 27-year-old writer wannabe, who basically hasn't been, and is starting to think he'll never be. He's played by Casey Affleck and as the movie starts, he's returned to the bosom of a family he doesn't really get along with after failing to make his mark in Manhattan. It's easy to see how his oppressively cheerful mother might get on his nerves, when shortly after his arrival she walks in on him in the bathtub and settles in for a chat.

(Soundbite from Lonesome Jim)

JIM'S MOTHER: I brought you some clean towels.

CASEY AFFLECK (Playing Jim): Okay. Thanks.

JIM'S MOTHER: Oh honey that's cold.

Mr. AFFLECK: It's fine. I'm fine.

JIM'S MOTHER: Mom sure is happy to see you.

Mr. AFFLECK: Yeah me too, mom.

JIM'S MOTHER: You call so little I, I worry about my boy all alone in the big city.

Mr. AFFLECK: I'm not a boy mom.

JIM'S MOTHER: Yes you are. You're a pretty boy. You're my pretty boy.

MONDELLO: Big hug, Jim's still in the bathtub. His relationship with his divorced older brother, who's also living with the folks, is equivalently awkward. Possibly because they're both depressive personalities with plenty to be depressed about.

Mr. AFFLECK: I just don't know what I'm doing here on earth in this life. I mean as far as the world's concerned, people like me might as well not even exist.

Unidentified Man: I'm really unhappy.

Mr. Affleck: I mean if I were you I'm not even sure I could do it.

Unidentified Man: Do what?

Mr. AFFLECK: Go on. I mean I think about ending it all as it is. I can't imagine it if I had your life.

MONDELLO: This little exchange leads his brother to drive into a tree on the way home. Not for the first time, either.

Jim does have one lucky break chatting up a nurse in a bar as played by Liv Tyler. She is lovely and free spirited, and he'S striking out with his Sad Sack routine until he gets to the part he's most embarrassed by.

LIV TYLER (As Anika): You make enough money to live walking dogs?

Mr. AFFLECK: Uh, I also worked at an Applebee's for a time.

Ms. TYLER: I love Applebee's.

Mr. AFFLECK: Really? My name is Jim.

Ms. TYLER: Anika.

Mr. AFFLECK: Nice to meet you Anika.

MONDELLO: Anika is as upbeat as Jim is beat up, so they make an appealing pair, though he is forever sabotaging things inadvertently. Director Steve Buscemi's approach to storytelling is much like his acting, down to earth with occasional outbursts to keep an audience on its toes. While he's not onscreen in this film, his wry sense of humor surfaces in lots of low-key ways. And perhaps because he's an actor himself, the performances he's gotten from his actors are engaging even when the characters aren't.

It's a tricky balance, this fascination with the ordinary nowhere people in Nowheresville. Not everyone could make a movie about boredom and inertia that wasn't itself boring and inert. But if Lonesome Jim sometimes seems a found object as much as a crafted one, that is precisely what the filmmaker is known for. Understatement writ large. I'm Bob Mondello.

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