It wouldn’t be an independent film festival without a quirky family comedy, complete with a plucky guitar score, precocious children speaking with maturity beyond their years,  and Toni Collette as the matriarch. Jesus Henry Christ follows in the footsteps of Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, and Garden State, by creating cartoonish, idealistic and quick tongued characters, but thankfully employs fewer emotionally manipulative plot techniques to compel viewers (But not much fewer).  Check out the full review after the jump…

The Players:

  • Director/Writer: Dennis Lee
  • Starring: Toni Collette, Michael Sheen, Frank Moore, Jason Spevack, Kate Hewlett
  • Executive Producer: Julia Roberts

The Plot:

Jesus Henry Christ is the story of ten year old genius Henry James Shepard (Spevack).  Henry’s left wing mother Patricia (Collette), wanting to raise a child, and convinced she could do it without the help of a man, had him conceived him in a petri dish from an anonymous sperm donor.  When Henry is old enough to be curious about his father, his grandfather Stan (Moore) reveals the secret of his origin.  Henry goes on to find his biological father, Dr. Slavkin O’Hara (Sheen), a chronically depressed and anxious professor who has alienated himself from his daughter Alice (Hewlett), by making her the subject of his book on whether or not a child is born or raised to be homosexual.  When the two families come together, they discover that they create a whole new family, even if they do drive each other crazy.

The Good:

  • Frank Moore- In the most enjoyable performance of the film, Moore brings a familiar, gruff lovingness that rests all of the movie’s good will on his shoulders.  He is the only character bereft of anxiety and anger, and his strong comic timing and light hearted delivery really make him the heart and soul of this film.  His character is the proponent of all the film’s plot points, and his presence is felt even in his character’s absence from the frame.
  • Michael Sheen- Taking a break from the grave, dignitary roles that have been his bread and butter of late, Mr. Sheen still brings his trademark, strong characterization to Dr. O’Hara.  His physical peccadillos and facial twitchiness make Slavkin a believable and pitiable individual, in a role that if mismanaged, could be boring and unsympathetic.  Moreover, Sheen finally gets to employ his very strong comic timing which, even as the straight man, turns the humor of the film way up.
  • Cutaway Scenes- A few scenes in the film remove us completely from the story at hand in order to provide context.  A flashback which shows the demise of Patricia’s family which left her and her father alone but for each other is funny in a way that the rest of the film is not.  The scene in which Stan explains Henry’s origins to him breaks out of the film’s reality and is delivered entirely in Spanish which, although out of place, adds a romantic and silly sense to an otherwise purely expository scene.  Along with a few others, these short bits of the movie manage to throw in a little energy and momentum at points of the film when it could use the help.

The Bad (or at least, so-so):

  • The Kids- This is not to denigrate the young actors, who turn a completely adequate performances.  Rather, this point is simply to wonder why kids can’t just be kids in movies.  While many people seemed to find the snarky verbosity of the kids in other indie films charming, more often than not, this trait is outright unbelievable and serves as a distraction from the story at hand.  And although this is the story of two exceptionally gifted and bright children, you’d be hard pressed to find children who can really convey the subtle and complex thoughts they’re charged with delivering.  When this is the case, the words they’re speaking had better stand on their own, regardless of delivery, and carry some relatable emotional resonance.  Unfortunately, in this film, they don’t really seem to.
  • Quirk- An element of stylization is one thing, but when a film tries to be quirky and off-beat for its own sake, it smacks of desperation.  It’s as if it is trying to force itself among a group of films whose success can just be transferred to whatever movie is employing those techniques at the time.  The headline they’re really hoping for is “This years’ Garden State!” As if there were a void to fill in cinema ever since that movie has left the theaters.

Overall:

Ultimately, Jesus Henry Christ is enjoyable enough film.  There is enough of a sense of humor and fun to send viewers out the door with a pleasant feeling at the end of the movie’s 90-minute run.  For audiences who have ever felt like outcasts, or idealized the relationships between parents and their children, there is a redemption in the reflection of these subjects and the characters’ search for the truth.  Dysfunctional or not, it’s always nice to see a family come together.

Rating: 6.5/10