It tells you something about a man when he can't even narrate his own story. Billy Cruddup's hero in Jesus's Son recounts his life in the same manner in which he lives it--in starts and fits. He sets up a structure only to go off on a tangent, winding deeper into the story before finally getting back to his initial point (if he gets back to it at all). He fails to include key moments, like when he finds out out his girlfriend is pregnant, and instead mentions them later in passing while talking about another scene.
The character, identified only as FH in reference to the derisive nickname by which everyone calls him, drifts through the world in the same way he drifts through his voice-over. He and his girlfriend are heroine addicts, but in FH's case it seems more like a symptom of aimlessness than the cause of it. Jesus' Son, then, operates as a sort of collage of the moments that stick in his memory and define the poignant melancholy of his existence.
Director Alison Maclean differentiates the film from other drug movies by placing less emphasis on the drugs themselves. The sordid details are there hinted at, but they aren't the story that FH wants to tell. She balances bleak humor with the longing of a man who has never been able to hold onto what he wants. The film's greatest asset is knowing when to leave things unsaid and trust the audience to put the pieces together.
Cruddup adds a friendly tone to the spacey narration, speaking like a nice fellow at a coffee shop, sharing his story to pass the time. The performance, which came shortly before Cruddup's work in Almost Famous remains some of hit finest work.
But Cruddup's isn't the film's only notable performance. The great Samantha Morton plays Michelle, FH's girlfriend and the only person who really makes a consistent impression on his life. Everyone else just seems to come and go, and the revolving cast includes Jack Black, Dennis Leary and Dennis Hopper. Black has one of the most memorable roles as FH's coworker at a late-night hospital that you definitely don't want to provide your healthcare. Black's closing line at the end of a scene involving a particularly screwed patient is priceless.
The film is a bit uneven, but that's a nearly inevitable byproduct of its design. Nearly a decade after its original release, it's still an oddly moving, fascinating and distinct work of cinema.
Lionsgate's new edition of Jesus's Son contains two differences from the old edition: the front cover and the back cover. Jack Black's supporting role now earns him a space as large as Cruddup's on the packaging. And Cruddup's work showing off his blue penis in Watchmen earns a parenthetical reference in the plot description.
The disc presents the feature in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with a satisfactory anamorphic transfer. The vivid colors are strong, the image is sharp and there aren't any major compression issues. The transfer has a few dust specs and damage marks here and there, but is overall quite nice. Obviously a new edition with a Blu-ray companion would be nice, but this release isn't about grand improvements.
The disc contains a well-mixed stereo track as well as optional subtitles in English and Spanish.
As I mentioned, this disc doesn't exactly add anything to the original bare bones release. You get the film's original theatrical trailer. If you ever want anything more, you're going to have to increase this film's profile. Maybe stand on the street corner in a funny suit and pass out some fliers. Or start a petition.
There's no need to upgrade your old Jesus' Son DVD, but the film is still worth checking out.
Jeremy Mathews has been subjecting films to his criticism since 2000. He has contributed to several publications, including Film Threat, Salt Lake City Weekly, the Salt Lake Tribune, In Utah This Week and The Wasatch Journal. He also runs the blog The Same Dame and fronts the band NSPS.