Just Jim
Director: Craig Roberts
Stars: Emile Hirsch, Craig Roberts, Richard Harrington

The epitome of teen angst, Jim (Craig Roberts) approaches his 17th birthday facing a mundane life in the tiny Welsh town he grew up in. He performs badly at school, is bullied by his classmates, hated by his gym teacher, ignored by the object of his desire, loses his one friend…even his dog runs away from him. His only fun comes from hours on his Nintendo, or repeated viewings of a classic film noir The Piper’s Revenge at his local cinema, where he is always the only patron.

Things look up considerably when a mysterious American named Dean (Emile Hirsch) moves in next door and takes Jim under his wing. Yet, Jim’s transformation from uber-nerd to cool kid comes with a price, as things take a turn for the dark and dangerous as his friendship with Dean deepens.

Just Jim is a rather offbeat coming-of-age comedy drama, which also marks the writing/directing debut of lead actor Roberts. It’s quite an achievement for the 25-year-old Welshman and, although some things work more than others, and there are moments when the pace flags even in its relatively short 84-minute running time, he expertly nails both ambiance and characterisation.

A great performance and a spot-on interpretation of that feeling most of us had at that age

The minutiae of small-town life are expertly captured – Roberts shot the film in his home town of Maesycwmmer, depicted as a nondescript place where the stultifying routine of uninspiring school time and the numbing home life are Jim’s only frame of reference.

At school, he has to deal with the alienation from his bullying classmates, augmented by the betrayal he feels when his best friend begins to hang out with other people. At home, he has to deal with his well-meaning (but clueless) parents and a more successful and unsympathetic sister.

Roberts has said that many aspect of the character are autobiographical, which explains why he’s so believable in the role – the mumbling reticence, the failed attempts at coolness, the cringingly-awkward first date with the girl of his dreams. However, he does not fall into the trap of making him completely sympathetic – Jim can be a tad obnoxious at times. It’s a great performance and a spot-on interpretation of that feeling most of us had at that age.

That said, probably not many of us had friends who turned out to be a little psychopathic. Hirsch plays Dean’s charms to the hilt – the personification of charisma and friendliness with a little rebelliousness thrown in (no prizes for guessing who he is named after). His behaviour turns a little loony, however, as his gestures of friendship towards Jim become a little too intense, while he simultaneously ingratiates himself with Jim’s parents in ways that don’t seem appropriate.

It is when the friendship starts to deteriorates and Jim’s state of mind becomes a little unstable that things venture into the surreal and it appears that what we are witnessing on screen may be a figment of Jim’s imagination. Some quirky underwater scenes work; and the eccentric characters, including the ex-soldier Jim meets on the bridge or the cinema usher who talks to people in the wall, are amusing. A sequence where a party takes a turn for the weird is suitably unsettling. Yet, while Roberts is to be applauded for avoiding a straightforward narrative and leaving things a little vague; many of these moments are fragmented and at times feel more like a gimmick than an important part of the narrative and the film feels less assured about its change of tone. So much so, it works best when it is being just Jim.

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