Jesus’ Son

Codependent. Michelle and FH (Morton and Crudup) are inextricably entwined in a life of drugs and crime.

dir Alison Maclean
scr Elizabeth Cuthrell, David Urrutia, Oren Moverman
with Billy Crudup, Samantha Morton, Jack Black, Holly Hunter, Dennis Hopper, Denis Leary, Will Patton, Greg Germann, Michael Shannon, John Ventimiglia, Yvette Mercedes, Ben Shenkman
00/US 3Ω out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
An anecdotal film based on a book of short stories, Jesus' Son follows its main character on a tortuous journey to self-discovery, by way of violence, romance and drugs. It's a cleverly-made film, compelling and insightful, and blessed with a terrific central performance.

Crudup plays a young man in the early 1970s, a lost soul who drifts through life stealing, using drugs and generally getting into so much trouble that his friends call him "F**k Head" (aka FH). And his friends aren't exactly winners themselves. There's his on-off junkie girlfriend (Morton), a pill-popping coworker (Black), a petty thief (Leary), a fellow rehab patient (Hopper), a seedy pimp (Patton) and a woman (Hunter) who's been widowed more times than she can remember. All of these people impact FH on his path from aimlessness to purpose.

The disjointed narrative makes the film feel much longer than it is, and the dark, awful stuff filling the story is pretty depressing. But a black streak of humour (especially in a ghastly/hilarious hospital sequence) helps keep things lively. Crudup is raw, kinetic and unexpectedly likeable, winning us over against all odds. Morton is also quite good in a hyperactive twist on the femme fatale role, while Hopper and Hunter are utterly mesmerising in their brief scenes. And as the title implies, there's a strong spiritual side to the film, as FH's Catholic background haunts him subliminally, resulting in surprising glimpses of truth and miracles as he goes through life. Maclean directs it intriguingly as well, with startling imagery that's in turns beautiful and hideous. Despite Crudup's sunny presence, this isn't an easy film to watch--it's relentlessly sordid, really. But the intriguing subtext and the way it never cheapens its characters (or subject matter) might make it worth a look.

[18--adult themes and situations, violence, drug use, language] 19.Jun.00
US release 16.Jun.00; UK release 7.Jul.00

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Kallie Wilbourn, by email: "This film, and Denis Johnson’s book upon which the film is based, so perfectly capture the 70s era. Many of us were convinced that seedy, druggy abandonment was the only possible response to the idea that life – the prevalent American way of life at least – made any more sense than being stoned all the time. Yes, the drug scene could be seedy and ugly. That was part of one’s rebellion against the decorated order masking societal dysfunction. But Crudup and Morton personify beauty all the more touching for its fragile fleeting quality within an ugly context. (They are excellent in this film -- great casting, in many respects.) That quality and the humor prevent both story and film from becoming squalid and melodramatic." (16.Mar.13)
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© 2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall