Jordan Hoffman May 29, 2013
I want to talk a little bit about boring movies. Boring comes in a few different varieties, and they are different from plain old bad movies. They offer nothing to laugh or scoff at. They just do their thing and, when you are done consuming them, they just lay there asking “what? You wanted more? That’s all you get.”
There’s the slow burn – where you can sense the inevitable conclusion coming, a vice grip and its methodical turn. When done right, you laser in on each scene, savoring the nuance of performance or writing. A good example I’ll elect as this subgroup’s representative is Cristi Puiu’s “Death of Mr. Lazarescu” – exhausting but tremendously rewarding.
Then there’s a “zone” movie. I’m gonna go ahead and pick Bela Tarr’s “Turin Horse” for this group. Repetitive, monotonous, but when it has a gorgeous texture and a tone that exudes importance and truth and a richness of history, a film like this can send you off (or in) on a journey in a way few other artforms can. You leave dazed and worn-out, but, if lucky, a tiny bit transformed.
Then there are movies, like Arnaud Desplechin’s “Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian,” that are just “not-horrible” enough, yet are still thoroughly and transcendently boring, that you come away with almost no reaction at all. It’s like being in a rush but you need to wolf down some lunch to prevent getting lightheaded. You inhale a sandwich without tasting it. The mayonnaise wasn’t spoiled so it doesn’t give you a stomach ache, but there’s no way you can ever reproduce the taste in your mind. If Desplechin wanted to make a movie like this, well, mission accomplished.
So what’s “Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian” about? It’s. . . oh, it’s so boring. But here goes. Benecio Del Toro plays a WWII vet who suffered a head injury. As such he has horrible blackouts and blindness spells. His older sister (who takes care of him) takes him to a special army hospital in Topeka, Kansas. The docs can’t find anything wrong with him. A shrink looks into it, but Del Toro is a Blackfoot, and he all but says “what do I know from these Indians?”
They call in Mathieu Amalric, a quirky anthropologist who is an expert on the Mojave (close enough) and who also dabbles in psychoanalysis. If he can’t cure him, then no one can!
You might be thinking, hey, this doesn’t sound that horrible. And that’s the problem with the movie. You keep waiting for something, anything, to kick in. It never does. Instead the two of them just yap at each other.
Listen: I’m no philistine. A can handle a two-hander of people talking. Hell, I’ll even go and watch a play from time to time if I can’t get out of it. But, seriously, there is just no life, nothing interesting going on between these two. This is not “The Chief’s Speech.” What you learn is that Del Toro’s character had a few sad things happen to him as a kid and young adult. Nothing too bad, in the great scheme of things. But, once he talks about them, he’s cured. The end.
Along the way there are filler scenes between Amalric (whom I usually adore) and some gal he’s seeing. But it’s barely in there. Yet, when she splits there’s a teary eyed letter where she bursts emotion all over the place. So, at the one hour and fifty-five mark we’re supposed to care about this woman we barely know, which is secondary to the main plot that we also don’t care about. It doesn’t land.
Amalric is fine in the piece and Del Toro is okay, I guess. Desplechin and he decided that Jimmy P. should speak Every. Single. Word. As. If. It. Is. A. Sentence. It’s almost unendurable. He’s just a frowny sack of potatoes in this film and, yeah, I feel sorry for him, but I also don’t want to see him mope for two hours if I’m not getting anything out of it.
Most baffling: this is based on a true story. So Desplechin at some point learned about this and said “yes! I will be the one to bring this fantastic tale to the screen!” Only, there’s just nothing there. Depressed Indian talks to shrink, tells bland stories. That’s really it. There are moments when you think there will be some conflict about new psychological technique locking horns with more traditional methods – or maybe some great insight into the struggles of American Indians. . . but not really. Instead it’s just boring – and boring in a way that apparently has no endgame.
Categories: ReviewsTags: Arnaud Desplechin, Benicio del toro, Cannes 2013, Cannes film festival, Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian, Jordan hoffman, Review