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.
Cast & Details See all »
- 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)