Title: Just Jim
Director: Craig Roberts
Major Players: Craig Roberts, Emile Hirsch
Out Of Five: 3.5
Somewhere along the line we’ve all had that feeling – that we just don’t fit in, especially with the most popular people. And the first experience of that painful self-consciousness is an almost inevitable part of being a teenager. Jim (Craig Roberts) knows it all too well.
The most non-descript teenager going, he’s agonisingly awkward, colourless, miserable and nobody notices him. Nobody, that is, except for the bullies and he’s their number one target. Out of the blue, he acquires a new next door neighbour, the streetwise American, Dean (Emile Hirsch), who takes him on almost as a project, the aim being to turn him into a winner and make his life a lot easier. But it’s a deal that turns out to have a much larger price than Jim imagines …….
Being ignored to the point of invisibility is just one of Jim’s problems. Everything, but everything, seems to go wrong for him. He can’t even take the family dog for a walk without it going missing. So he does the right thing and puts up posters about it – and the bullies vandalise them.
It’s not just the other kids who don’t like him. His parents are remarkably neutral and distant. They arrange a birthday party for him with a big “Happy 16th Birthday” banner. He’s 17. Jeremy Kyle would be ranting at the thought. After his parents leave, the banner falls down and the lights fuse. He might tell his parents that the party went fine, but we know that nobody, but nobody, showed up.
His new neighbour, Dean, is the complete opposite. With his quiff, leather jacket, red sports car and almost permanent cigarette, he looks like he’s come out of the 50s, echoing his namesake. His ruses to make Jim more popular and help him stand up for himself start to show results. He engineers Jim’s win at the big cross country race and intimidates another boy so that he doesn’t go near Jackie, the girl they both fancy.
This is Craig Roberts’ (Submarine) first outing as a director. He wrote the script and plays Jim as well, all at the tender age of 24! And, for the first two thirds, it’s surreal and blackly funny. Partly set inside Jim’s head and partly in reality, the story is full of quirky scenes punctuated with crisp one-liners. But then it turns darker. Dean befriends Jim’s parents – possibly with designs on his mum – and persuades them their son may be mentally ill. And while this initially seems to be in the same quirky vein of humour as the rest of the film, the tone soon blackens and bleakens. How much of it is real and how much in Jim’s head becomes harder to work out.
It’s as if Roberts wrote the first hour, hit a brick wall, and tried to wrap it up in something closer to a horror setting. But it doesn’t work entirely. That said, that first hour most certainly does and demonstrates that he has a keen eye for comedy, especially if tinged with black and quirkiness.
So as a debut, it shows promise and a distinctive style, especially where humour is concerned. Roberts has taken on a lot in making this film and, while he hasn’t quite bitten off more than he can chew, his story does run out of steam, losing much of its energy and sharpness. As an actor, he turns in a good performance as the morose, colourless Jim and also gets a good one out of Emile Hirsch.
Just Jim isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s enough about it to admire and enjoy. It’s also the type of movie that could easily develop a cult following all of its own.
Just Jim goes on limited release around the UK on Friday, 25 September and will be reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 24 September.