Sometimes a movie comes along without much of a push, and without much commercial appeal, and not very many people go to see it or even hear about it. But most of those who do are pleased to find that it is an unusually good picture. They tell their friends about it, they write rave reviews of it. Then your connection in the home video industry, Pornographical Jerry, hooks you up with an advanced preview cassette of the picture and you give it a shot. And holy shit, it turns out to be the best movie you’ve seen in a long fucking time. Now you can’t wait to use your power and responsibility as an acclaimed Writer on the films of Cinema to promote the movie, so you try to time your review to come out on the day it is released so that all the little Outlaws out there will storm into their chain video stores and say look asshole, where is it? Where is Jesus’ Son fer cryin out loud, don’t give me that never heard of it look, this is a highly acclaimed movie. “Oh, you mean the one on Vern’s sight? Right over here, sir.”
But then on the release date Pornographical Jerry’s store doesn’t have it out for rent so you assume okay, it got pushed back. But then you find out a week later that no, there was some kind of mixup, it came out on the 19th and here it is the 25th and maybe Jerry doesn’t have it yet but you know it’s been sitting on the shelf somewhere and some poor motherfuckers out there might not even know they should be renting it.
Sometimes, as in this case, the movie is called Jesus’ Son directed by Alison McLean and starring Billy Crudup as a nomadic junkie in the ’70s in a series of vignettes that are a perfect combination of funny and sad. Two of my all time favorite emotions. More about them later, people.
You may have seen Billy Crudup in the popular movie Almost Famous, where he plays the guitarist Russell. Or who knows maybe you even saw him in Waking the Dead or Prefontaine, two other Crudup pictures. It seems like every time you turn around Crudup comes out with another limited release movie playing some shaggy haired flakey dude from the seventies. You might even say Billy is the It Boy right now, and if so the IT in IT BOY is Jesus’ Son. Because IT is pretty fucking good.
I thought Crudup was good in Almost Famous but all through the movie I kept thinking of how much more interesting he was in Jesus’ Son, because he is, let’s face it, kind of a dumbshit. The movie is based on a semi-autobiographical book and has a strong literary type voice to it since, like all movies based on semi-autobiographical books, it has voiceover narration from the protagonist, probably taken straight out of the book. But in this type of movie I am accustomed to the narrator being some clever dude throwing clever phrases and observations right and left, trying to show his dissatisfaction with consumerist society along with his intriguingly postmodern way of admiring it through the technique of ironic distancing.
Well Jesus’ Son does not make himself out to be that clever. Sure his narration is reasonably literate but he makes it pretty clear in each event that he is a fuck up. In fact the only name he gives for himself is “Fuck Head” and much of the story attempts to illustrate why he deserves and will never escape that name.
At this time I would like to introduce Vern’s Theory of Dumb People In Movies, which states that
a) smart people like movies about dumb people
b) dumb people who think they’re smart hate movies about dumb people, and say the movies are dumb
According to this explosive new Theory, people like you or I will love Jesus’ Son. Because Fuck Head, let’s be honest, is not exactly the brightest bulb a motherfucker is likely to come across. He is basically a sweet guy who always tries to help people out but always ends up making things worse. Like Edward Scissorhands without the scissors, or the talent, and on heroin, and in the ’70s.
Let me give an example. There is a section in the movie where Fuck Head is trying to straighten his life around. He has one of those Sid and Nancy style passionate, fucked up, on-again-off-again emotionally violent love affairs with Samantha Morton, who is just as cute as she was in Sweet and Lowdown only now she talks, and is on heroin, and in the ’70s, with less jazz. Well Samantha is pregnant so it’s high time Fuck Head started to be a little more god damned responsible and upright so he gets a job as an orderly at a small town hospital. But wouldn’t you fucking know it, Jack Black works there too and he steals alot of pills from the pharmacy and sometimes he lets Fuck Head use them.
So next thing you know Fuck Head finds himself in charge of a litter of prematurely born baby bunny rabbits. And he and Jack Black run around in the snow blasted out of their minds on who knows what. And then they’re sitting in the car and Jack Black goes, where are the bunnies.
At first Fuck head tries to change the subject and then he starts crying and admits what happened to them. To me this scene represents what is so great about this movie. The scene is sad enough to make anybody cry. Not only because of what happened to the poor baby bunnies, but because of what a pathetic, low point this is for this fuckhead Fuck Head at precisely the moment when he needs to start going in the other direction. And he can’t even get any sympathy from crazy junkie Jack Black and his big round santa claus belly.
At the same time the situation is very absurd and the dialogue is very funny and you can’t help but laugh. But this is not a joke that is also sad. And it’s not a sad scene that is also funny. It is some kind of powerful concoction of the two, a potent crossbreed that lies exactly in the middle of pathos and laffos (or whatever the latin is for funny).
The movie is full of vivid imagery and weird characters whose eccentricities and what not always ring true. When Denis Leary or Dennis Hopper or Holly Hunter or somebody wanders in playing some weird, lonely character it doesn’t feel like a stunt, it feels like some real incident brought to Cinematic life. I don’t know about you motherfuckers but to me this is one of those strong American slice of life movies that just clicks right from the beginning and never goes off track. Like a Pulp Fiction or a Do the Right Thing although it’s really not like either of those pictures. Subject wise I’d say it’s closest to Drugstore Cowboy with less violence and more heart. I’m tempted to categorize it in some kind of new wave of drug pictures with Larry Clark’s Another Day in Paradise but it’s not nearly as much about drugs and crime as it is about people and relationships and trying to find a place in the world where you are happy even if you know everybody thinks you’re a Fuck Head.
Well shit I don’t know how to explain this movie, I am only a Writer on the films of Cinema what the fuck am I supposed to do anyway. But let me tell you this. This piece right here, this ranks somewhere up there just below Ghost Dog as one of my favorite pictures of the year 2000. Although this is not a Badass Picture by any means I hope some of you individuals will give it a chance and let me know if you liked it as much as I did.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.