The Fourth of July holiday is traditionally a slow week for DVD releases. Studios and distributors assume everyone is out grilling or watching fireworks, and not interested in home videos.
I'm what you call an indoorsy person, though, and so have dutifully gone through this week's slim pickings. JESUS HENRY CHRIST is an indie comedy in the Little Miss Sunshine vein, featuring eccentric family relations, flamboyantly dark humor and precocious little kids.
It's quirk overkill, frankly, and painfully self-conscious. But if you can get past all the conspicuous indie-ness, you'll find a sweet minor-key comedy with some fine performances.
It goes like this: Ten-year-old Henry Herman (Jason Spevack, your kids will know him as Nick Jr.'s Dino Dan) is a child genius. He has a memory which he describes as even better than photographic. He can replay events in his mind like high-definition video.
Henry's mom, the ardently feminist Patricia (Toni Collette), has raised Henry by herself, after a visit to the sperm bank 10 years ago. Patricia's no-account father Stanley (Frank Moore, in the Alan Arkin role) bankrolled that trip to the clinic, as a way to make up for Patricia's lousy childhood. Via flashback, we learn that three of Patricia's brothers died tragically, one fled to Canada, and her mom died in a freak birthday cake accident. (It's that kind of movie.)
When grandpa Stan spills the beans to Henry about his conception, Henry sets out to find his biological father. That turns out to be divorced college professor Slavkin O'Hara (Michael Sheen), who has recently published a sociology book about his 13-year-old daughter Audrey (Samantha Weinstein) titled “Born Gay or Made That Way?”
As you might expect, the book has made Audrey's life miserable at junior high, and she's not thrilled to learn she might have a boy-genius half brother coming into the picture. The rest of the film plays out more or less predictably, with writer/director Dennis Lee stealing pages (chapters, really) out of the Wes Anderson/Hal Ashby playbook. The visual style is particularly reminiscent of Harold and Maude (recently reissued on DVD and Blu-ray), with its overly formal compositions and showy symmetries.
It's the performances that make Jesus Henry Christ worth the while. Collette has some heartbreaking moments as a mom who loves her kid so much it hurts, all the time. Sheen is terrific, too, and finds heart and humor in his role as a failed father and academic. As the perpetually pissed-off Audrey, Canadian actress Weinstein is like a red-headed Wednesday Addams, all gloom and malice.
I liked the movie overall, but it's such a slight thing that by the end I was wondering how heavyweights like Sheen and Collette—and executive producer Julia Roberts—came to be involved. Then the credits rolled and I saw that the film's director of photography is Danny Moder, a.k.a. Mr. Julia Roberts. That might explain things.
Format: DVD and digital
Extras: Interviews with Sheen, Collette, Spevak, Weinstein and director Lee.
Also New This Week:
Comedian Bobcat Goldthwait writes and directs in the bizarro dark comedy and cultural satire GOD BLESS AMERICA. Goldthwait doesn't pull any punches in this one, in which veteran character actor Joel Murray goes on a cross-country killing spree to wipe out American trash culture.
Willem Dafoe stars as a mercenary trapper who travels to Australian bush country in THE HUNTER, with Sam Neill and Frances O'Connor.
Snoop Doog plays a “15th-year senior” and cements his status as the elder statesman of stoners in MAC & DEVIN GO TO HIGH SCHOOL, with fellow rapper Wiz Khalifa.
Plus: TV-on-DVD from the wayback machine with season collections of DYNASTY, MANNIX and THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO.