Synopsis: At the age of ten, Henry James Hermin, a boy who was conceived in a petri-dish and raised by his feminist mother, follows a string of Post-It notes in hopes of finding his biological father.
When I was 20 and writing my first proper screenplay I thought it, and I, were awesome. Mainly because I thought everything I was writing was super original and, most importantly, obscure. Everyone had to talk like they just got gangbanged by a Barnes & Noble, reference music only I had heard of and find themselves embroiled in all manner of quirky shenanigans. I fairly quickly realised no-one likes a smart alec. Which makes writing sympathetic movies about them tricky.
Wes Anderson nailed it. Problem is, ever since Anderson introduced the world to his particular brand of uber-smart, upper-middle class, dysfunctional American family dynamics, there have been a slew of writers and directors without his skill sets trying to do the same. Noah Baumbach has best emulated it with likes of The Squid & The Whale. Many others though have failed.
As with most trends, the longer it gets from the original source the less charming it becomes. We all got sick of people who weren’t Tarantino trying to write like Tarantino and sounding like a poor version of Tarantino, until Tarantino started sounded like a weird pastiche of himself (by the way, in case you’re wondering about that last sentence I had a bet with myself. And I lost. Or won. Depends how you look at it).
Jesus Henry Christ (firstly, awful, awful indie name for a film) follows the World’s 2nd smartest human, a 10 year old kid called Henry (Jason Spevack), as he tries to find his real sperm donor father (Michael Sheen) whilst dealing with his feminist-liberal mother (Toni Collette). In the mix is his super messed up possible half-sister Audrey (Samantha Weinstein), struggling with her own sense of identity. While not without it’s charm, it wants really badly to be a Noah Baumbach/Wes Anderson movie about super smart people enduring quirky problems. And it falls short for a number of reasons. Mainly, it just feels like it is trying too hard. Like with The Giant Mechanical Man (reviewed last month http://wp.me/p32hec-sD) it falls firmly into the “too indie” category.
The first 10 or 15 minutes are genuinely quite funny as we are taken through a potted history of Henry’s mother’s childhood, including a hilarious set of twins, and a brilliant moment of realisation between a parent and child at a school open day. After that though it wanders into indie for the sake of indie territory. For instance: why does the moment of realisation for Henry have to be in Spanish and shot in a weird yellowy light? No-one in the movie has any amount of hispanic in them. It’s purely a quirky device to demonstrate how smart all the characters are and possibly be some reference to Mexican soap operas. Stuff like that bugs the shit out of me. You can also tell Lee is a big fan of Wes Anderson from the vigour with which he uses a lot of Anderson’s trademark techniques, most notably his use of the Rostrum Camera.
Like I say though the movie is not without it’s charms and it never feels anything other than genuinely heart felt. Smart People (2008) was a better movie about similar characters but had more cynicism about it. Jesus Henry Christ always feels optimistic. Also the performances from the two young leads are great. Jason Spaveck as Henry never seems overwhelmed with the dialogue that comes with portraying a child genius. Samantha Weinstein is equally great as the neurotic 12 year old Audrey, who hates everyone and everything due in no small part to her father writing a book about her childhood that leads to everyone calling her a lesbo.
Unfortunately, it’s ultimately not enough to lift the film from being just another indie movie.
Conclusion: Great potential and some fine performances marred by a director trying to hard to be someone else.
Director/Writer: Dennis Lee – Previously wrote and directed ensemble drama Fireflies In The Garden (Ryan Reynolds, Julia Roberts, Willem Defoe amongst others). Powerful, powerful stuff……………..never saw it.
Cast: Michael Sheen, Toni Collette, Jason Spaveck, Samantha Weinstein, Frank Moore
.No trivia of note