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New Release Review - JUST JIM (DVD)

A Welsh teen's dull life is invigorated by the arrival of a James Dean like American.


Review by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Directed by: Craig Roberts

Starring: Emile Hirsch, Craig Roberts, Richard Harrington, Sai Bennett, Charlotte Randall


Homage abounds in Just Jim, not just to the '50s rebel canon, but to John Hughes’s teen cinema, Scorsese, Lynch all the way up to Bertolucci and beyond. Roberts assimilates these influences with a cineaste’s flair.



The archetype of the leather jacketed rebel is a creation of pure cinema, the only medium fit to capture the pensive motions and smouldering pose of this eternal outsider. An approximation of photogenic cool, the swagger, the sneer and the sartorial elegance were exemplified by '50s outsiders like Jim Stark and Johnny Strabler; epitomes of beautiful, troubled youth, questioning of authority and the conformity expected of them: what were they rebelling against? What have you got? '50s cinema exploited the post-war generation - the newly minted ‘teenager’ - providing rock 'n roll cinema for the back seat bingo players at the drive in, and ready avatars for the societal unease of these young adults/old children in threshold state. The lineage lasted; the iconography of leather jacket, dangling cigarette and scowl was taken up by the T-Birds in Grease, Rudy in The Monster Squad and, to an extent, even intergalactic bad boy Han Solo. However, in an era marked for its mass conformity of twitter band wagons and the implied passivity of social media, the cinema rebel is today conspicuous by his absence; anyone not toeing the line in Harry Potter is probably a dark artist, and The Avengers, jocks to a man/woman, killed off their very own potential wild one quick smart in Age of Ultron.
First time writer/director Craig Robert’s Just Jim is in part a tribute to the classic '50s rebel; the conceit being that an American cool dude, Dean (Emile Hirsch), invades a dull as dwr cymru South Wales town, and the life of anxious weirdo Jim (Roberts). Dean seems to have been scouring the charity shops, rocking as he does a tan leather jacket and long collared floral shirt (want). A cigarette hangs from his sneer in perpetuity, even while he’s rolling about town in his bright red convertible.
Homage abounds in Just Jim, not just to the '50s rebel canon, but to John Hughes’s teen cinema, Scorsese, Lynch all the way up to Bertolucci and beyond. Roberts assimilates these influences with a cineaste’s flair. Most clear are the references to Fight Club, however, and, as Dean takes Jim’s life on, teaching him how to bag the girl, stand up to the bullies and become his own man (advice; ‘don’t be yourself’, an aphorism borne out by Jim’s eventual choice of attire, the red jacket and quiff made famous in Rebel Without A Cause), you begin to wonder if Just Jim has the strength of character to form its own identity.
A first time film maker, Roberts is a veteran actor of both TV and film. It’s clear he’s been taking notes (most specifically from Richard Ayoade, whose fanciful Submarine Roberts starred in), and, aided by DoP Richard Stoddard, Just Jim is visually stunning. There isn’t a shot that hasn’t been carefully considered for maximum impact and style. The performances are good too, with Hirsch charging the film with insouciant energy, a winning contrast to Roberts’ hang dog, comedic mein. There is an issue with the tone of the film though, with most of Just Jim taking on a whimsical quality that at times wrong-foots the narrative; there’s the suggestion that Jim could be daydreaming or exaggerating certain events (there is a, quite impressive, scene filmed underwater that, logistically, could not have occurred). This capricious approach at times robs the film of its emotive resonance, specifically the would-be cathartic violence of the finale (did it happen or what?). Nonetheless, Just Jim is an exemplar of first time film making; flawed, but excited, ambitious cinema. There are clear precedents here, and while Just Jim doesn’t do anything especially ‘new’ (an unrealistic request, in any case), Roberts’ film seems still fresh and certainly forms its own nascent idiosyncrasy. Watching it and enjoying the film in its own right, I couldn’t help but feel the exhilaration that Just Jim will be revisited by fans and scholars of Roberts’ forthcoming work, seeking out the intriguing genesis of his no doubt dazzling future cinematic oeuvre.
Extras:
A making of doc that is a cut above the usual luvvie gush (although there is some of that on display, natch). In depth, interesting interviews that add to the experience of the film. Roberts is articulate and sincere, the quintessence of Welles’ adage comparing an auteur to a kid with the world’s best electric train set. There are also intriguing deleted scenes that flesh out secondary characters such as the bullies and Jim’s love interest (the very good Charlotte Randall).
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