| ||Samantha Morton as Michelle|
and Billy Crudup as FH
Jesus Son is an opium-flavored odyssey in the torpid tradition of Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho. It stars Billy Crudup as FH (short for a two-word insult that rhymes with Truck Head) whose deadpan performance may not light up the screen but is nonetheless convincing as a teenage lobotomy from early '70s Iowa. Crudup's surreal trek to salvation takes him through some strange and terribly funny places. Much of the movie is spent attempting to recall the debauched details of FH's doomed love affair with his swivel-hipped junkie girlfriend Michelle, played to the hopped-up hilt by British babe Samantha Morton. Coincidentally, both Crudup and Morton have starred in Woody Allen films. Crudup was featured in Allen's musical misadventure Everyone Says I Love You and Morton starred opposite Sean Penn in Woody's jazz-joint Sweet and Lowdown.
Jesus Son is told in a series of nebulous and nightmarish flashbacks and is dexterously directed by New Yorker (by way of Canada and New Zealand) Alison Maclean, who is lately known for directing two episodes of HBO's "Sex in the City." Jesus Son, based on the book by Denis Johnson, trips along merrily enough, although it is at times hard to sympathize with the film's abnormal assortment of damaged humans, as played to perverse perfection by Denis Leary, Holly Hunter, and the baron of Blue Velvet Dennis Hopper. (What, no Harry Dean Stanton?)
Maclean's tragical mystery tour ends with a somewhat reformed FH taking it one day at a time, with his scraggly head of hair in a slightly better place than where it started. And maybe that's the best he, or any of us, can hope for.
Of the supporting players, Leary is sublimely snide as Wayne, a barfly friend of FH's who cuts him in on a job salvaging copper electrical wire from an empty house. The home he and FH are stripping turns out to be Wayne's himself, whose wife, by the way, is later seen flying naked in a kind of hang-glider/parasail contraption. It's only one of many unearthly and unexplained moments in the five years of FH's life that are revived in the movie's two hours.
Wayne and FH joyously go their separate ways with bags of dope bought with their day's sinful wages. Both overdose, but only FH survives thanks to Michelle coming home and throwing him in a cold shower. Wayne dies alone on one of the happiest days of his life, and takes Leary, one of the movie's best actors, out of the action much too soon.
Also along for the long strange trip is FH's co-worker, pill popping hospital orderly Georgie, played with delirious delight by Jack Black (Enemy of the State, Mars Attacks, The Cable Guy). Georgie is a life-size goof ball, whether meditating on the squeaking of his hospital shoes or slicing up road kill for rabbit stew, he provides much of the movie's deranged comedy. But when Georgie miraculously and successfully removes a hunting knife from an emergency-room patient's eye socket, the picture's believability is sacrificed for the sake of sheer strangeness. Adding to the oddity is a scene where Georgie takes FH to a cemetery set up as a drive-in theater with crosses instead of speaker stands. It's not clear whether FH is hallucinating or guest starring in someone else's poppy field of dreams.
There's a lot more to the story, including FH's brief liason with a handicapped widow, played with humor and humanity by Holly Hunter and FH's new career writing the monthly newsletter for a nursing home of the physically and mentally disabled. Again, it's all weird and yet, for the most part, it also manages to be all good.
"Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine," punk poet priestess Patti Smith sang in her version of "Gloria." One thing is for certain, you won't die of boredom watching Jesus Son, whose title actually comes from the lyrics of Lou Reed's proto-punk classic "Heroin." You might get a little sick from all of the on-screen vein slapping, vomiting and heroin overdoses, but it's cheaper and faster than going to rehab and, best of all, you don't have to turn in your shoelaces.
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