Jimmy P. falls into a strange crack of modern foreign film culture. It’s the latest movie by noted French auteur Arnaud Desplechin, whose previous two films (Kings & Queen, A Christmas Tale) gained considerable traction domestically. Each movie made a large number of critical top ten lists and were – in relation to foreign films -decent hits as well.
Yet, Jimmy P. came out in the States like a whisper, despite being largely in English, featuring a more recognizable star (Benicio del Toro) and having ties to World War Ii; a favorite American topic. Released earlier this year to tepid reviews, it’s another international picture to fall under the radar by simply not being great.
Based on a true story, the movie features del Toro as Jimmy Picard, a Blackfoot Native American struggling through severe migraines, occasional blindness and a host of other symptoms after returning home to Montana after fighting in Europe. Jimmy seeks out medical assistance at a clinic for veterans, none of whom see anything wrong with his physically. A French doctor (played by Desplechin regular Mathieu Amalric) is brought in with hopes of finding a possible mental root for the issue, though the American physicians find psychoanalysis a questionable form of help.
The film is fine, a well acted drama that never gets into a particularly captivating gear. There isn’t much juice via Amalric’s doctor and his new American cohorts. They mildly disagree about some of Jimmy’s issues. They also largely stay out of one another’s way. It’s a lot of Jimmy quietly admitting his past scars; quite a few of them he only now realizes are never healed properly. These scenes allow del Toro to give an excellent performance, far more somber and delicate than what one often finds in films where a character is on the proverbial couch. Here del Toro lets his dialogue sneak out of his mouth, as if his every fault, be it at war or familial, is the gravest of secrets and shames.
Amalric is solid, if not working with much. One of my favorite actors working today, Amalric character is mildly eccentric, with an equally mild mystery is his past. There is very little for him to chew on and this issue keeps the film at a distance.
There are flashes of the Desplechin visual playfulness. When Jimmy recalls his chaotic dreams, complete with giant bears and chases, Desplechin makes it surreal. Where the surrounding picture is straight-laced, these flashes provide a distinct insight into Jimmy’s fractured state.
Altogether, Jimmy P. is for Desplechin completists or del Toro fanatics, even as those searching for these two men’s best works ought to look elsewhere.