Actor-turned-director Steve Buscemi's morose, pitch-black comedy revolves — slowly — around a would-be writer who wipes out in New York and retreats to his hometown to lick his wounds in the bosom of the family he can't stand. Sullen, self-pitying, 27-year-old Jim Roush (Casey Affleck) slinks into Goshen, Indiana, after having spent years publishing nothing and scraping by as a dog walker. Mom Sally (Mary Kay Place) welcomes the prodigal with a flurry of hugs and syrupy endearments, while gruff dad Don (Seymour Cassel) musters a pro form greeting. Jim's brother, Tim (scruffy indie-movie regular Kevin Corrigan), who once dreamed of joining the CIA, is also back home following a failed marriage and is working for minimum wage to make child-support payments for daughters Rachel and Sarah (Rachel and Sarah Strouse) while seething at his rejection by the local police force. Jim papers the walls of his old room with a gallery of self-obliterating scribes — suicidal superstars Sylvia Plath and Ernest Hemingway jostle for space with cult idol Breece D'J Pancake — and needles Tim into a single-car accident that leaves him temporarily comatose. Don "asks" Jim to help out at the Roush-family ladder factory, where he's sucked into an expedient but ill-fated relationship with his blustering ne'er-do-well Uncle Stace (Mark Boone Jr.), who's renamed himself "Evil" and uses Sally's ad hoc snack concession as a cover for dope dealing. Jim is also pressured into coaching Rachel and Sarah's dismal basketball team, the Roush Ladders, until Tim recovers. The sole bright spot in this grim picture is Anika (Liv Tyler), a sweet-natured nurse who single-handedly transforms her one-night stand with Jim into a desultory relationship. Based on what appears to be a strongly autobiographical screenplay by Goshen-born writer James C. Strouse (whose nieces appear as Tim's children and whose parents' home and factory serve as sets), Buscemi's dry, off-kilter film assiduously avoids romanticizing depression or suggesting that it's an integral part of the artistic temperament — especially given that Jim never gives the slightest hint that he has any. He's just all-too-convincingly selfish, cynically self-defeating and determined to blame his parents for everything that's wrong with his so-called life, which makes him a hard character to get behind for a long 91 minutes. Affleck's gloomy, one-note performance exacerbates the problem, but the stellar supporting cast helps compensate, and Phil Parmet's muddy photography is a constant visual reminder of the everyday desolation that helped drag Jim into his black hole of despair.
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- Released: 2006
- Rating: R
- Review: Actor-turned-director Steve Buscemi's morose, pitch-black comedy revolves — slowly — around a would-be writer who wipes out in New York and retreats to his hometown to lick his wounds in the bosom of the family he can't stand. Sullen, self-pitying, 27-year… (more)