The Jimmy Show

Job has nothing on Jimmy O'Brien (Frank Whaley), whose life is one long series of tribulations: Between caring for his cranky, ailing grandmother (Lynn Cohen); marrying his pregnant high-school sweetheart, Annie (Carla Gugino), shotgun-style; and trying to discharge the responsibilities of fatherhood on a grocery clerk's salary, Jimmy has little time to...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Job has nothing on Jimmy O'Brien (Frank Whaley), whose life is one long series of tribulations: Between caring for his cranky, ailing grandmother (Lynn Cohen); marrying his pregnant high-school sweetheart, Annie (Carla Gugino), shotgun-style; and trying to discharge the responsibilities of fatherhood on a grocery clerk's salary, Jimmy has little time to dream. But dream Jimmy does, and after a series of humiliating failures, he hits on the idea of channeling his rage and frustration into stand-up comedy. Unfortunately, Jimmy doesn't seem to realize that the key to hostile comedy is using creative alchemy to turn misery into mirth. He simply pours out his bitter frustration at a series of open-mike nights at local clubs, and it's hard not to sympathize with the boorish patrons who alternately ignore and heckle him. Unless, of course, he's not performing at all; it seems possible that the film's stand-up numbers are glimpses of Jimmy's splenetic psyche, filtered through his unrealized longing for recognition — which is just that little bit more pathetic. What's certain is that Jimmy's seething, unfocused resentment fuels an inclination to self-destruction; even sweet-natured stoner Ray (Ethan Hawke) can see Jimmy's setting himself up for a fall, but Jimmy brushes off his warnings about habitually punching in late, mouthing off to the manager and stealing beer by the case. Inevitably, Jimmy gets pink slipped; Annie decides she can't take his relentless negativity and leaves with their daughter to start a new life; and Jimmy's grandma and the car give up the ghost on the same night. There's more, but it's more of the same: Jimmy's life is one of quiet desperation spiraling into a long, piercing howl of despair. To his credit, actor-turned-director Whaley is interested in telling stories about the kind of working-class lives that Hollywood and indie hipsters routinely ignore or make the butt of jokes. Like his heavily autobiographical directing debut, JOE THE KING (1999), this film — based on Jonathan Marc Sherman's play Veins & Thumbtacks — gets the grinding details of paycheck-to-paycheck blue-collar life just right. And Whaley is both a fine, subtle actor and a sensitive director of others; even Hawke, a performer of distinctly limited resources, is used to his best advantage. But Whaley's determination to immerse you in sheer, unrelenting wretchedness is exhausting. Not that Jimmy should learn a lesson, catch a break and get a life-affirming hug, but it's hard to swallow a mouthful of bitter dregs, let alone three full, unvarying courses of the stuff.

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Job has nothing on Jimmy O'Brien (Frank Whaley), whose life is one long series of tribulations: Between caring for his cranky, ailing grandmother (Lynn Cohen); marrying his pregnant high-school sweetheart, Annie (Carla Gugino), shotgun-style; and trying to… (more)

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