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Beautiful, humane film filled with menagerie of "off-the-wall" (sorry) supporting characters. This film succeeds where all other "drug films" fail. It doesn't cram a message down your throat. It's not concerned with retreading the territory of "Trainspotting" or its clones. It has similar scenes, but the tone is completely different. Billy Crudup also delivers his real star-making performance (this came out before "Almost Famous") as a young man whose name begins with an 'F' and ends with an 'uckhead'. His rambling narrative makes this film seem more like a friendly anecdote than a wittier-than-thou voice-over which always seems to do more to flatten out a film than to expand it. This film uses drugs as a vehicle to show how all of us need some sort of redemption, but we have to get it on our own terms.
I was totally disarmed by this wonderful movie! Most movies about drug
addiction hit you over the head with the misery and destruction of the
users. Yet this movie was about so much more--a whole host of characters
marching to a different beat. This movie told it's tale in short
snippets...I almost felt like I was eavesdropping or spying on the
characters at various moments in their lives. Nice balance of
lightheartedness and seriousness. Some truly great lines. When a nurse tells
FH his girlfriend is comfortable now. He asks with total naivete: "Is she
I see that others here have problems with the title and the reference to Jesus. Not me. Aren't all of us (and esecially the world's "losers") just Christ figures waiting for redemption. It made me think of the line, the meek shall inherit the earth. The mystical touches, whether drug induced or not, were wonderful.
I enjoyed this, it's different. The plot is non-linear, but that
doesn't really matter. It contains scenes that may disturb, but for one
reason or another, I forgot to be disturbed. The acting is very good, I
don't think I'd ever seen a Billy Crudup film before, and came away
with a new name to search for. The soundtrack is excellent, the humour
is odd, but it's the supporting cast which make the film; the cameo's
are all spot on. I dislike Denis Leary, but he's good here, I wasn't a
particularly big fan of JB Jack Black either, but he shines here and I
saw him in a new light.
Low budget, sure, more films could do with the charm of this one, it tries to do something different, and I think it's a winner.
Brilliantly pieced together from assorted short stories by Denis Johnson, director Alison Maclean brings depth, humour, compassion, and darkness to the screen adaption. Heroin addict FH (ryhmes with: Duck Bed) goes through a strange odyssey of loss and understanding his compassion. Brilliantly (and this is not an overstatement) acted by Billy Crudup (who should have been given an Oscar nod for his performance), he brings a complexity to his character that is missing from most actors around. Minor details are amazingly evident in his portrayel of FH, as the lovelorn, selfish, and sensitive junkie. Samantha Morton is outstanding as Michelle (FH's girlfriend), giving an intense and moody performance (which the viewer mourns the loss of half way through). The movie mixes moments of surreal madness, as the viewer is taken along existential scenes that could be described as hallucinogenic and funny. The scene where a gentleman (played by book author Denis Johnson) comes into a hospital with a hunting knife stuck in his eye is uncomfortably hillarious. Drugged up hospital attendant Georgie (Jack Black in a standout performance) proceeds to pop pills as he attempts to pull the knife out. But this is just one of the many great cameos that fills the screen. Denis Leary (looking a lot like Dennis Hopper in "Easy Rider", Holly Hunter (playing a neurotic widow with a limp), and Dennis Hopper (looking amazingly like Dennis Hopper too) give great performances as well. Alison Maclean directs the film with great use of color and cinematography, but never crowding the actor's performance. Included as well, is a great music theme by Joe Henry, that incorporates the blending of psychedlic guitar and wurlitzer electric piano work. The rest of the soundtrack is great as well, with music by Wilco, Joe Tex, Neil Young, and Booker T & The MG's. This film was one of my favourite films of the year, and unfortunately didn't get as much notice as it deserved. Highly recommended!
Although it is far from perfect, "Jesus' Son" stands as a shining example of
what is to be valued in independent filmmaking. It's impossible to imagine
this film being produced in Hollywood. The subject matter is thorny, the
form is innovative and most characters are ambiguous. In short, there's
little here onto which a mass audience can grab. Yet, anyone choosing to
pass this little film by will be missing something worthwhile.
"Jesus' Son", which takes its title from a Lou Reed song, expresses itself as a narrative memory. The film has the feel of random pages read out of someone's diary. It opens with a voice-over and we are immediately aware of an eccentric approach: the narrator has jumped the gun and needs to start over again. This sort of starting and re-starting may seem an affectation derived from the French 'new wave,' but it is handled so effectively that it succeeds in pulling the viewer into the film. Once officially on track, "Jesus' Son" moves from scene to scene with a method that seems wholly controlled by this main character/narrator, a young man known simply as F'head. We're never sure if he deserves this unflattering name, since his intentions are not always clear. F'head just seems to move through life, going where circumstances take him. Along the route, a wide variety of character types are encountered. Most leave F'head with something, and a few take something from him.
For individuals who are roughly contemporary with the characters in this film, there is much here that rings true. The time period-early 1970s-was a strange, directionless time for many in their early twenties. In fact, the film almost makes an unintentional case for the rampant drug abuse of the time: for so many, there was nothing else to do.
But the intention of Jesus' Son is not to excuse drug abuse, nor is to preach against it. Rather, the movie takes its hero on a rambling journey through the undersides and back alleys of life so that he may discover a single reason for staying alive. F'head seems a variant of the "wise fool" character, bringing about change in the lives of those he meets, yet seemingly unable to evaluate any of the events or relationships in his own life. Some viewers may see the hero guided by a higher power, of which he is himself unaware.
While the film's haphazard structure may be annoying to some, it admirably suits the time period and life-styles of the characters. There is a seeming discrepancy between several scenes. Some have a realistic, semi-documentary feel (when F'head first encounters Michelle), while others appear to be drawn from some bizarre cable-TV sitcom (the entire hospital orderly sequence, for instance). As in many independent films of recent years, there is much humor mixed with stark drama. The director, Alison Maclean, keeps a firm grip, maneuvering between wide-ranging emotional states. In the end, one is left with the feeling of having really experienced something. This is due not only to Maclean, but to the very fine cast.
Not surprisingly, Jesus' Son is dependent for its success on the portrayal of its central character. Billy Crudup, an actor who could easily be dismissed as a pretty boy, brings an almost palpable reality to every scene. He exhibits a total identification with the character and is able to project perfectly the inherent ambiguity that drives the entire story. Is F-Head putting everyone on? There are flashes of nearly poetic brilliance in his dialogue, mixed with befuddled inanity. He seems to live around his world, rather than within it; observing, but not always participating. Although one might wonder how someone with his lifestyle could have such perfect teeth, F'head as played by Crudup, is a beautiful, confused and confusing angel.
Other cast members are memorable as well. Samantha Morton, who made a huge impression in Woody Allen's Sweet and Lowdown, embodies the equally ambiguous persona of Michelle, who loves F'head, yet seeks to destroy herself. Dennis Leary effectively creates a man annihilated by his own life. The growing number of Jack Black fans will probably enjoy his over-the-top characterization, but to this viewer his George seems vaguely disturbing and threatening. Holly Hunter is the kind of performer who can bring a lot to a film with just a few lines. She plays a lovely crippled woman here with dignity and humor. Also excellent in their brief appearances are an understated Dennis Hopper and the vigorous Will Patton.
Typical of many period films dealing with young people , the soundtrack of "Jesus' Son" is loaded with contemporary popular songs. But the choices here seem carefully made. There is new material as well: a fine main theme written by Bob Dylan and the closing credits are supported by an absolutely superb song with a Woody Guthrie lyric, set to music and performed by Wilco.
This film was buried here- apart from the acclaim in 'Uncut' magazine; I
didn't manage to see this 'til this year. My initial viewing was a little
underwhelmed- being a fan of Johnson's book I had worked this up to
impossible heights in my mind. However, on a second viewing I enjoyed the
film more- the nouvelle-vague via Scorsese editing & structure seemed much
better 2nd time around.
The film is closest to 'Drugstore Cowboy'- though parts such as the split-screen or the digital editing as F***head takes pills in the Emergency Room could have come from 'Requiem for a Dream'. The source stories have been extended and made more cohesive- as with the adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr's 'Last Exit to Brooklyn' by Uli Edel.
The film is wonderfully shot- a great scene is the drive-in/cemetery that plays 'Carnival of Souls' (though I thought I saw Samantha Morton caught in an almost Anton 'Depeche Mode' Corbijin style!); imagine 'Zabriskie Point' without the metaphysical masturbation...
The acting is uniformly great- Crudup & Morton are fantastic leads, while Denis Leary, Greg Germann, Holly Hunter are among the excellent supports. The short Dennis Hopper shaving scene is one of the greatest pieces of cinema I have seen in recent years; while Jack Black almost steals the film with his amusing "listen to my shoes". And Denis Johnson is great as hunting knife in eye guy. Oh and Will Patton pops up as 'John Smith'- still he was in 'The Postman', so not quite yet forgiven.
The soundtrack (chosen by Johnson) is great- Neil Young's 'Cowgirl in the Sand', Wilco's 'Airline to Heaven' & 'She's a Jar', 'Hang on Sloopy' and the great score. The highlight is Morton's gyrating dance to 'Oh Sweet Pea'- almost as great as that dance scene ripped off for 'Pulp Fiction' from Godard's 'Bande a Part'.Only quibble is- where was 'Heroin' by The Velvet Underground?
'Jesus' Son' is a touching, funny, and tender film that deserves to find an audience. There are too many great moments here- Hunter's arm waving in the air, Beverly Home, the Amish, the laundry scene, the ER scene, the rabbits roadtrip etc. Terribly depressing that mediocrity like 'Human Traffic' & 'Trainspotting' finds an audience here- but a film like this isn't allowed to (except at a few arthouse cinemas). Pity- and Alison MacLean's debut 'Crush' is also excellent; here's to possible adaptations of Denis Johnson's 'Already Dead' & 'The Name of the World'- by David Lynch and Paul Schrader respectively (hopefully)...Check out Johnson's books- as this film's use of voiceover stems right from them.
I chose to see "Jesus' Son" for Billy Crudup and director Allison
Maclean, who did the terrifically creepy romantic short I saw on the
Sci Fi Channel a few weeks ago, "Kitchen Sink."
"Jesus' Son" is a picaresque road movie traveling through addictions, and manages to miss wallowing in the depression that made "Leaving Las Vegas" so unrelenting . Samantha Morton has incredible chemistry with Crudup who is fascinating to keep watching even as his character is a passive naif whom we really don't learn anything about.
My biggest complaint is that the cameos by recognizable and/or famous actors (Denis Leary, Jack Black of "High Fidelity," Holly Hunter, Dennis Hopper) make the source material of short stories--which I assume are where the chapter headings come from-- too obvious; I would have preferred intriguing character actors or complete unknowns.
This is one of those "little movies" where you see a filmmaker in love with her tools of the medium, because it is both literate and explores the story visually, with judicious use of fantasies and hallucinations.
The Joe Henry musical score is wonderful, and the soundtrack selection of alt.country, including several Wilco songs, and offbeat rock and r & b classics are also commentaries on the action (amusingly the only Henry song used comes in over the radio that an annoyed Crudup turns off in order to hear the dialog).
(originally written 6/24/2000)
"Searching for Meaning" could be the title of the movie as well as of the
reactions of many people who didn't want to see below the mixed-up surface
of the film. The story is the random ramblings of a reformed drug addict
looking for some meaning to life, death, and the difference between the
There are some interesting symbols: a man with Jesus' heart, a singing Menonite mermaid in a shower, drugs as an escape from the drug called life, etc. Not the average stuff of a mainstream movie which explains why this is an independent film.
We go along on an oddly comic journey during which we contemplate the price we pay for our dreams, explore the way we hide our deformities from the world, realize that we pretend to be normal because we want to be normal -- whatever normal is. We all want to find our place in a strange world where we have to consider the answers to the questions "Why did God make us?" and "Why did God make us the way we are?"
The solution to the riddles seems to be connecting with all our fellow riddlers, realizing that we'll understand someday what it all means.
This is a disturbing, funny, sad film -- not for everybody, but an interesting experience for people who don't mind thinking about what is being shown on the screen.
It's not "Panic in Needle Park" 1975 or "Rush" 1991. It's not heavy at all.
True, the subject is about the drug scene in the '70's, but how can anything
be heavy with Jack Black in it? (Yes, the one who delivered a surprisingly
impressive singing at the finale of John Cusack's passion "High Fidelity"
2000). JESUS' SON is neither your usual Hollywood glamorized drug
I was skeptical when I first heard about this film in Dec. '99 -- another one on drugs. Then when the trailer started, it grew on me. The image of framing an arc of a wreath above Crudup's head was the crowning influence that I must see this movie. In any case, Billy Crudup and Samantha Morton are quite an intense pairing.
The whole film seems like it's on it's own trip (pun intended). Crudup is FH, a rather lovable character. He is actually a shy person. Now and then he emits a sense of humor and it comes across so innocently -- you just can't blame him. He's trying to do right. Billy Crudup carried the picture from beginning to end. We see him and hear him narrating. The words uttered are eloquent. Crudup's clear enunciation adds to the fluidity of the text that we're hearing throughout the film.
Watching this film is rather like playing an album, you can go back and forth just by lifting the turntable needle. The vignettes are different tracks: on the road trip with Jack Black and the rabbits, and dealing with the knife in the head emergency case during a hospital shift (with Jack Black contributing his comic rhythm and delivering his lines equally fun to hear); shaving Dennis Hopper and interviewing him at the same time; interactions with Holly Hunter before and after AA meetings; staff routines at the senior home in Phoenix; repeatedly watching the Amish couple through the window glass; going to Denis Leary's house and the aftermath; of course, the interludes and episodes with Samantha Morton as Michelle. Humor is ever present.
Bravo to the script by three screenplay writers, based on Denis Johnson's short stories, and kudos to director Alison Mclean. She directed a film with such clarity and simple strokes. Billy Crudup would be the reason to see this film if not anything else, he exudes a halo of light about him -- his angelic face, even with his coy whiskers, still has a certain innocence about him, and according to FH, he does have ominous feelings in him of what to come. Jesus' son, he very well is. Enjoy this film, it's an excellent effort and production all round, including the soundtrack music and songs of the 70's.
Don't miss "Without Limits" 1998, another Billy Crudup must-see, if you haven't yet.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Normally I am not a fan of drug or alcohol related movies as they tend
to be a little bit protentious such as Requim for a Dream or Leaving
They try and say something specifically about the drug use, instead Jesus' Son tells a story about a person who just happens to take drugs.
Here, like life, reality is confused and they choices we make haunt us.
The main character Fuck Head is the ultimate loser. He takes drugs, only lives because his girlfriend saves his life, yet he lets her die in the same circumstance. He sees the sacred heart of Jesus on a man who tells him to go away. But ultimately he finds his own place in the world and sees beauty where others can't.
This is an art-house movie, and the reason that art house movies don't turn up in mainstream cinemas is because they have limited appeal. So maybe you will hate this movie or maybe you will recognise the loser in yourself in Fuck Head. I know I did. Sure I want to be a cross between Mel Gibson, Brad Pitt with a touch of Edward Norton, but I know I am more of a Fuck Head. If you are too, watch this movie.
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