Directed by: Arnaud Desplechin.
Written by: Arnaud Desplechin & Kent Jones & Julie Peyr.
Starring: Benicio Del Toro (Jimmy Picard), Mathieu Amalric (Georges Devereux), Gina McKee (Madeleine), Larry Pine (Dr. Karl Menninger), Joseph Cross (Dr. Holt), Gary Farmer (Jack), Michelle Thrush (Gayle Picard), Misty Upham (Jane), Jennifer Podemski (Doll).
I had only seen two other films by French director Arnaud Desplechin when I watched his latest, Jimmy P. But both of those films – Kings and Queen (2004) and A Christmas Tale (2008) – were masterpieces. They are long, messy, family dramas, who contain twists that make you re-evaluate everything you thought you knew about them. They have large casts full of interesting characters, who behave in ways I could not predict. They were alive in ways that so few movies are. All of this makes Jimmy P. a surprising, yet disappointing film. It’s a stilted drama that although it has many characters, only really has two that aren’t completely underwritten. The movie is at its best when it’s just the two of them in a room together – and even then, it never really comes alive in the same way Desplechin’s films normally are. It’s probably one of the most realistic portraits of psychotherapy ever put on screen. There is no phony breakthroughs, or scenes where the patient breaks down in tears and then is cured. Instead, he slowly starts to understand why he is so damaged – and how he can live with that damage. But that doesn’t make it very interesting to watch.
The film stars Benicio Del Toro, as Jimmy Picard, a Blackfoot Indiana – a veteran of WWII who sustained a head injury in combat, and has been plagued by headaches and visions ever since. Everyone thinks he has some sort of traumatic brain injury – and he’s sent to a hospital to try and figure out what precisely is wrong with him. Surprisingly, all the tests show no physical cause of his problems. The problem must be psychological. But the hospital has no one on staff capable to handling Picard – no one who understands Indians (as they are called throughout the film). So they enlist the help of Georges Devereux (Mathieu Amalric) – a European doctor, who is an expert on Indians, and has his own secrets from the war (only some of which are revealed during the course of the movie). Devereux starts psychotherapy with Jimmy, and slowly reveals the layers of the damage he suffered throughout his life.
Del Toro is a talented actor, although sometimes he depends too much on his mumbling, method acting in place of something more genuine. Much of his performance in Jimmy P. falls into this trap – although the performance has some nice moments as well. Better is Amalric, who is a natural at playing this sort of eccentric character. The movie seems to hold back a little too much information about him though – information that may have made for a richer portrait.
The movie is at its best during the extended therapy sessions between the two men – who as actors seem to settle down and feel comfortable in these scenes, in a way they don’t in the other scenes in the movie. Devereux slowly, but surely, wins Jimmy’s trust, and also gets him to reveal the secrets of his past. This is fascinating not only to Devereux, but to everyone in at the hospital, who have no understanding of what Jimmy is going through.
The movie has many – way too many – subplots, most of which feel only half sketched out and don’t really add much to the movie as a whole. Had Desplechin just focused on the therapy sessions themselves, Jimmy P. may have become a great movie. But he tries to do too much, and the whole thing never really seems to be getting anywhere – and takes its time getting where it does. I appreciate the fact that Desplechin is interested in providing a complex, mental portrait of an Indian character – something sadly lacking in American movie history. But surely there had to be a way to make all this more entertaining and interesting. Instead, the result is a deadly dull film, that never quite reaches what its aiming for.