MRR Review: "Jimmy P."

Photo Credit: IFC Films

Rating: NR

Length: 117 minutes

Release Date: September 11, 2013

Directed by: Arnaud Desplechin

Genre: Drama


In the years immediately following the second World War, a Native American Blackfoot veteran named James "Jimmy" Picard begins experiencing debilitating dizzy spells, headaches and other symptoms. When no physical cause for his condition is found, a mental hospital admits him, and he is subjected to a battery of tests. Eventually, a powerful bond of friendship is established between him and his psychoanalyst Georges Devereux as they try to solve the dilemma of James' affliction together.

Based loosely on true events, "Jimmy P." is short on plot and long on character study, a surprisingly strong approach that works to the film's benefit. The film does not follow a standard three-act movie story structure, eschewing artificial story construction for the sake of brevity. Instead, it indulges in thoughtful dialog punctuated with many introspective moments. The story focuses strongly on the lives and personalities of the two very different male leads and the bond that forms between them.

Benecio del Toro plays James "Jimmy" Picard. Though not of Native American descent himself, del Toro nevertheless gives a very convincing and compellingly authentic performance. The actor paints a complex portrait of a blue-collar, hard-working man caught up in an illness beyond his control. Despite the expectation of many of his well-meaning but culturally blind caretakers, Jimmy displays remarkable intelligence and insight once drawn out by Devereux.

It is del Toro's performance as Jimmy Picard that is the movie's true dramatic centerpiece. Jimmy proves a richly complex character of humble means who displays rich depth. An accident on the war front seems at first to be the cause of his affliction, but as the movie progresses, it becomes clear that it may have just been a trigger to release the turmoil that had always been rolling just under the surface of his mind. As his life is slowly revealed through dialog and flashbacks, viewers see a psyche shaped by many forces, some mundane and others tragic.

Mathieu Amalric plays Georges Devereux, a displaced European anthropologist pressed into service as a psychoanalyst. The doctors in Jimmy's hospital assume only an expert in Native American tribes would be able to help Jimmy, so they have him brought in. Devereux is a very sharp contrast to his patient. While Jimmy is tall and imposing, Devereux is of modest height and disposition. While Jimmy is reserved and deliberate, Deveraux is mellow and whimsical. They are separated even more by culture, class and race. Jimmy cannot even withdraw his own money from the bank without a friendly white person there to vouch for him personally.

However, the two mesh surprisingly well together. Both are outsiders dealing with emotional instability in their lives both in and out of the hospital. While viewers see less of Devereux's past than Jimmy's, they get tantalizing hints through his interaction with his mistress of a quiet desperation that he hides behind. His enthusiastic veneer of professionalism may just be a mask for a man who has just as many doubts and insecurities as his patient.

The film does an unexpectedly thorough job in showing the realistic details and methodology of psychotherapy. Jimmy and Devereux's sessions together have an air of authenticity about them. A genuine give-and-take relationship develops between doctor and patient. The drawing out of Jimmy's thoughts and dreams is unhurried and natural, with none of the rushed artificiality viewers often see in movies featuring psychotherapy.

The complaints about the film are minor. The movie does tend to drag on in some places, but this is never enough to pull the viewer out of the story. Some of the secondary characters seem rather pointless, such as a young fellow patient who mutilates himself shortly after Jimmy's arrival. He seems to have been added to the film solely for shock value. The film's characters also spout a lot of Freudian approaches to mental illness, which have long since been discounted. However, given that the era in which it was set is the 1940s, that is not necessarily unrealistic.

"Jimmy P." is a quiet and thoughtful film in no hurry to get to where it wants to go. It does not try for the emotional gut punch that is characteristic of most dramatic storytelling. The story is much more akin to a pleasant walk with two good friends, listening while they exchange interesting anecdotes and ideas. The narrative also features no definitive or heavy-handed resolutions. The two men meet for their shared purpose, and when that purpose is met, they move on. "Jimmy P." is the perfect type of film for those who simply want an authentic reflection of life or for those who enjoy tales of good friendships.

Rating: 3 out of 5