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Overall Rating

Awesome: 18.64%
Worth A Look38.98%
Average: 27.12%
Pretty Bad: 10.17%
Total Crap: 5.08%

5 reviews, 29 user ratings

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Jesus' Son
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by iF Magazine

"Serves as a reminder of why story collections are so rarely adapted."
3 stars

Self-destructive, mentally unbalanced characters, way too much access to mind-altering substances and, to make things all the more enticing, virtually no plot to speak of – these are some of the elements that must be endured in the course of director Alison Maclean’s well-meaning but ultimately misfiring downer of a drama, JESUS’ SON. Faced with the daunting challenge of adapting a series of short stories into a feature, most filmmakers attempt to restructure the material or impose some narrative device to strengthen the connection between individual segments. Maclean (CRUSH) and company go the opposite way with their screen version of Denis Johnson’s story collection JESUS’ SON, embracing the book’s episodic nature in a series of freestanding vignettes linked only by the presence of a rootless, wandering protagonist.

Unfortunately, even some first-rate scene work and a dream cast of guest stars can’t fully compensate the viewer for a storyline that stubbornly refuses to go anywhere.

The common denominator in what plays like a succession of short films is a dim-witted but likable young man known by the endearing sobriquet "Fuckhead" (Billy Crudup). Adrift in the confusing social climate of the early ’70s, Fuckhead is at the mercy of a dangerous world, one step ahead of various forms of annihilation.

As the piece meanders along, we see him conceive a child with an unstable, heroin-shooting girlfriend (Samantha Morton); kill time with a self-hating barfly pal (Denis Leary); provide some frighteningly unprofessional primary care alongside a deranged hospital co-worker (Jack Black); and help out at a cheerful mental institution, where he befriends a scarred older patient (Dennis Hopper) and a woman obsessed with her numerous dead lovers (Holly Hunter).

Ill-equipped to survive in the world as he finds it, Fuckhead nonetheless maintains a childlike innocence as he stumbles through life, consuming whatever narcotics are handy and embracing whatever human affection comes his way.

The script by Elizabeth Cuthrell, Lydia Dean Pilcher and David Urrutia suggests he suffers from some form of mild mental illness, but his condition, complicated by his constant substance abuse and emotional trauma, is never stated explicitly.

Mercifully, the film doesn’t reduce all of this down to a Hollywood-type search for an all-healing love that will set Fuckhead straight and send viewers out of the theater feeling good about humanity. Maclean’s work is too honest for that, but all of the integrity and thematic ambitiousness in the world won’t keep an audiences tuned into a narrative that builds no real momentum as it goes.

On a more positive note, the episodic format allowed the indie production to load the individual segments with extended star cameos, nearly all of which are memorable.

Morton is captivating in a nervous, unpredictable part that’s a 180-degree departure from her Oscar-nominated mute in Woody Allen’s SWEET AND LOWDOWN.

The ever-delightful Hunter and HIGH FIDELITY’s Black are predictably strong in their quirky roles, but the real revelation is Leary’s touching work as a guy so angry at life that he tears up the house where he lived in happier days for the few bucks that can be made from selling the copper wiring.

As the only element bridging the various stories, Crudup’s performance has to carry more weight than it would in a conventionally plotted film. Though his leading man looks make him a little hard to buy as one of life’s losers – the Johnny Depp problem – he certainly steps up to the demanding role and demonstrates reasonable chops as a character lead.

His solid, if rarely surprising, work makes one wonder if a truly great performance (we’re talking Daniel Day-Lewis or a young Dustin Hoffman here) would have been enough to draw the film together and make the whole as engaging as the better individual scenes. In any case, JESUS’ SON serves as a reminder of why story collections are so rarely adapted as literally as Johnson’s is here – it’s hard as heck for even someone as obviously talented as Maclean to get a film to work this way. - Mike Tunison -

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originally posted: 10/19/00 01:53:26
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User Comments

6/26/11 John Airey very good performance 4 stars
8/06/10 Heather! My 2nd favorite film of all time! I don't understand why it was never more well-known. 5 stars
3/28/07 fools♫gold There seem to be unexplained things, notably towards the beginning. But, damn is it unique! 5 stars
10/18/06 Akeem Durosomo A great film of the decade! 4 stars
1/12/06 j.f. i don't feel the junky love. solid actors, story? what story? humor? if you're stoned? 1 stars
9/05/04 Shawn Biblical Allegory? No! Allusion to Velvet Underground Song Heroin? Yes! 4 stars
4/20/04 A F Euphoric look at the decent into drugs, as opposed to the dark and often disgusting. 5 stars
12/30/03 Samuel great film, Jack Black was hilarious, and Billy Crudup did an excellent job!! 4 stars
12/05/03 Millard Fillmore Me rikey. 4 stars
10/06/03 sarah onlyfor oldies 4 stars
7/28/03 Phil M. Aficionado Crudup is amazing, and the story... well not amazing but OK. 4 stars
6/16/03 Jack Sommersby One of 2000's very best films. Crudup is a revelation. 5 stars
10/18/02 carrot ( lots of great symbolism in this movie... it's about more than just drugs and addiction. 5 stars
9/27/02 rob excellent performances. 5 stars
6/09/02 Phil M. Aficionado The full range of emotions with a sweet/sour/funny/sad/compelling/repulsive soul 5 stars
3/11/02 Melina jesus pleae 1 stars
2/14/02 Bob Marley yeaaaaaaa it's a gaaaaayyyyyyy mooooooooooovvvvvvvviiiiiiieeeeeeee :D :D :D 1 stars
9/06/01 SLICK I believe Palahniuk owes a lot to Denis Johnson & tha film, brilliant but drawn out a bit! 4 stars
9/06/01 Reini Urban Only for younger folks. 3 stars
8/06/01 daniel good movie, some really great parts. samantha morton is a truly amazing actress. 4 stars
2/10/01 Asbury Park Great film. Crudup is phenomenal, reminds me of Sean Penn at his best only better!! 5 stars
9/28/00 Slacker charm Reminiscent of Holden Caulfied 5 stars
9/25/00 The Bomb 69 great performances, average storyline 4 stars
9/20/00 Jeff Crudup is good, the film is blah. 3 stars
9/02/00 Tom The best film I've seen this year. Excellent performances by Crudup and Morton. 5 stars
7/17/00 PJ One of the best films of 2000, great performances, original, beautiful, funny, excellant 5 stars
7/16/00 Losifer entertaining, but you won't miss anything by not watching it. 3 stars
6/29/00 pipeman Has fun moments. Peters out at the end, unfortunately. 4 stars
6/29/00 J At least it was free when I saw it. 3 stars
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  16-Jun-2000 (R)



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