**/**** Image B- Sound B-
starring Frank Whaley, Carla Gugino, Ethan Hawke, Lynn Cohen
screenplay by Jonathan Marc Sherman, based on his play "Veins and Thumbtacks"
directed by Frank Whaley
by Bill Chambers There's depressing and then there's depressing. The Jimmy Show, actor Frank Whaley's heartfelt follow-up to his nakedly personal hyphenate debut Joe the King, is so faithful to the doldrums of its lower-middle-class milieu as to have viewers recoiling from the reality check. It's here that I become hypocritical, having championed my share of sad and perhaps discouraging films, yet one looks for their despair to be tempered by a sense of the romantic--even in the bleak Jude, the suffering is admittedly idealized by the setting, the weather, the period flavour. The Jimmy Show is no exaltation of the common man, but rather a snapshot of a tedious, miserable life--it could be called "The Sad State of Affairs," though it's actually based on a Jonathan Marc Sherman play entitled, rather evocatively, "Veins and Thumbtacks".
Whaley sat out Joe the King in front of the camera but directs himself in The Jimmy Show as Jimmy O'Brien, an aspiring stand-up who lives with his grandmother (Lynn Cohen) and works in the shipping department of Tops Friendly Market. Annie (the irrepressibly gorgeous Carla Gugino), his sweetheart since high school, drops a bombshell on his front steps one afternoon when she confesses that she's pregnant. She tells him they should get married, he's terrified, but nine months later, they have a wedding and a baby on the same day--and it's all downhill from there. Jimmy, daring his foreman to catch him, keeps lifting cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon from the loading dock, Granny gets progressively sicker, and Annie starts to feel suffocated by Jimmy's dead-end existence. The film's Fosse-ian narrative structure turns Jimmy superficially into Lenny Bruce as his comedy routines, which are purely autobiographical and anything but funny or escapist (he makes Rupert Pupkin look like...well, like Lenny Bruce), provide rueful commentary on the events surrounding them.
The Jimmy Show earns begrudging respect for its honesty. The picture feels like a step backwards from Joe the King in that it lacks any beacon of hope--the 400 Blows-esque ending of Joe the King showed the promise of adulthood in the eyes of its fourteen-year-old title character, while The Jimmy Show more or less buries Jimmy alive. There's a Peter Pan leitmotiv running through the film starting with Jimmy's namesake (Peter Pan author James M. Barrie) that further complicates our commiseration with Whaley: Jimmy insists to Annie that they name their daughter ("it") Wendy, after the heroine in Barrie's story, and a terminal adolescence manifests itself in, among other things, Jimmy's refusal to institutionalize Granny (for fear of losing his mother figure) and his constant reminiscences about his past with Annie. He lets their marriage crumble dwelling on the seductive anklet she used to wear as his math tutor. The need to grow up and take the reins seems to be an actor's lament, what with the Steve Buscemi-helmed Trees Lounge and, to some degree, Robert Redford's Ordinary People; maybe it's a metaphor for the transition to directing (an illusion of control if ever there was one), but there's a line of self-indulgence that The Jimmy Show crosses that renders it difficult to appreciate, regardless of the film's undeniable veracity.
TVA distributes the First Look feature on DVD in Canada. Thanks to the disaster that is First Look's DVD release of Rain, I approached The Jimmy Show with trepidation. Alas, although this is a watchable presentation, a soft image and the fact that the film is in fullscreen combine to give off the impression of TV-movie production values. (At least The Jimmy Show just looks unmatted here as opposed to cropped or panned-and-scanned.) The Dolby Digital stereo soundtrack is clean and lucid if utilitarian, and there are no extras save trailers for Bark, Skins, and The Jimmy Show. Originally published: May 13, 2003.