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Canada / USA 2000
Directed by
Alison Maclean
107 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bill Hubbard
4.5 stars

Jesus' Son

Synopsis: Its '70s America when drugs were the breakfast food of the youth nation and only straights had jobs. The unnamed central character (Billy Crudup) recounts his sorry-assed misadventures as he drifts in search of his true self.

Amongst the growing number of relatively recent films dealing with American 70s youth culture (from Buffalo '66 to The Virgin Suicides), all which revel in one way or another in the fashions and music of the period, Jesus' Son stands out because it conveys a feeling of actually "being there" whilst depicting post-adolescent alienation in a form that is undoubtedly equally real in our retro present for those who share the angst along with the recycled clothes of their immediate forbears. Yet the film that occurred most frequently to me as a point of comparison was Gus Van Sant's Drugstore Cowboy, not only because Billy Crudup has physical resemblance to the star of that film, Matt Dillon, but for the way in which without histrionics or melodrama it articulates the experience of someone in a self-destructive descent into drug hell.  In fact, though often the film deals with bleakly tragic events and a sorry lot of damaged people in a way that is never patronising or exploitative it would fair to call it a black comedy of the Grand Guignol variety. In this respect it is both inventive and engaging. Although the self-deprecatingly humourous, even gleefully ironic, approach undermines emotional engagement with any of the characters, it is nevertheless a skilfully-made story of personal redemption, the director and writers respectively having done a fine job with what must have been originally an edgy, energetic collection of short stories by Denis Johnson.

An independent film, though by no means a cheap one, Jesus' Son benefits from the absence of glossy productions values and some very effective tricks that visually suggest drug-hazed, emotionally-wracked mental states or, to a lesser extent, that play with the linearity of conventional film narrative. For some reason it introduces a couple of big name stars, Dennis Hopper (perhaps in homage to his personal credentials as drug survivor or the number of roles in which he's played a user of one kind or another) and Holly Hunter. For me their inclusion was gratuitous and their scenes could have been left on the cutting room floor with more gain than loss.

Billy Crudup is excellent as the dreamily diffident drifter on the long and winding road to somewhere and ably supported by his co-star, Samantha Morton, who has also appeared recently opposite Sean Penn in Woody Allen's Sweet and Lowdown. Jack Black appears to have run across from the set of High Fidelity to turn in a manic performance and the soundtrack is unusually good. If they get all the tracks on the CD it'll be well worth the outlay.




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