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My Name is Jonah
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by Jay Seaver

"Making something of himself."
3 stars

SCREENED AT BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL 16: I wonder where filmmakers start and wind up, in terms of motivation and attitude, when making something like "My Name Is Jonah". It seems awfully cynical if the final product is what they envisioned, but if not... Well, there are different ways to look at the end result, even as it drags on long enough to make things seem drearier than they might have been.

Jonah Washnis lives in Greece, a small town in upstate New York, where he plays the harmonica when there's a gig and toils at various working class jobs in between. He's internet-famous, though, for what he posted on MySpace, most notably a series of pulp-inspired holiday cards that he created and posed for over twenty-five years or so. As the film opens, he's had a fairly rough run of it, although he's fairly upbeat - after all, he does and has done things that most guys only dream of!

Well, probably not really; despite having created a hyper-masculine persona online and even before that was a thing, actual acts of badassery are tough to uncover despite how he has a lot of footage of himself. Eventually, what filmmakers Phil Healy, JB Sapienza, and Jon Caron put on display is more sad than anything else: An affably nerdy fellow trying to present himself as The Punisher, boasting about how many Facebook friends he has when he doesn't seem to have that many in the real world, especially now that his dog is gone.

Even that dog, as great a dog as he appears to have been, is an example of how constructed Jonah's self-image is; he saw a dog in a movie and went far out of his way to acquire one of the same breed. His failed marriage, it turns out, is probably another attempt to manufacture the life he wanted, featuring a Ukrainian bride whom we mostly see in some very staged, artificial-feeling home movies. It's amplified in a blistering interview segment with Jonah's older brother, who has some harsh words about the way his brother lives his life.

It might have been during this interview that the film started to take shape for the filmmakers, but the trouble is that they aren't able to mold it into something pointed or thought-provoking. Part of the problem is the length; you could probably cut this down to a "long short" (maxing out the 40-minute length that separates shorts from features for the Oscars), but the movie runs over an hour longer than that, and as a result often feels like it's repeating itself or padding. They also seem to have trouble giving the film a direction, whether that be showing how the entertaining, larger-than-life guy is a not all he's made himself out to be, appreciating how he had injected excitement into his drab life, or starting a conversation about which point of view has more merit.

It could have been worse, though; the filmmakers could have found a way to cut their footage up into thirteen half-hours for some cable channel that once had a higher mandate. They could still take a little less time to say more, since the subject isn't quite so interesting as what he maybe represents.

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originally posted: 04/02/14 15:05:39
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Boston Underground Film Festival For more in the 2014 Boston Underground Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/05/14 Jyvheclh It china also calls for early screening for marijuana possession. And also if you read my p 5 stars
4/03/14 David Stowell a funny and entertaining flick! 5 stars
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Directed by
  Phil Healy
  Jb Sapienza

Written by
  Phil Healy
  Jon Caron


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