‘I’m Not Here’ Film Review

March 26, 2019
M.N. Miller 1
Film, Film Reviews
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Summary

You have to admire the performance of Simmons in I’m Not Here. His worn out, alcohol-soaked visual is so expressive and mesmerizing, with a Bale-like physical transformation. Unfortunately, the films’ flashbacks are artificial and forced upon you, despite its good intentions.

2

Summary

You have to admire the performance of Simmons in I’m Not Here. His worn out, alcohol-soaked visual is so expressive and mesmerizing, with a Bale-like physical transformation. Unfortunately, the films’ flashbacks are artificial and forced upon you, despite its good intentions.

I can’t remember the last time an actor like J. K. Simmons broke into Hollywood stardom at the ripe of 59 years old with Whiplash. A character in television shows for much of the ‘90s, he caught a rising star in most Jason Reitman films. It was his performance in Juno getting some abnormally positive attention for himself. He hasn’t wasted an opportunity since. Acting in several high-profile films. He also helmed a well-received television show. Now, he offers a mesmerizing performance in his new film, I’m Not Here. I wish it weren’t saddled with half a film that is so contrived.

The film begins with Simmons’s character Steve laying prone in a single bed. He is naked with a bed sheet barely covering his bottom half. He lays in the center of the room with clothes and trash all around him. Steve turns over. Revealing an almost malnourished appearance. His ribs sticking out like sore thumbs. Chronic alcoholism doesn’t lead to big beer bellies. The truth is, it can lead to serious weight loss as well digestive issues and disorders. He wanders around his apartment thinking of important life events caused by drunkenness. Even as a child and as a young adult.

The actors who play Steve in the flashbacks are Iain Armitage (Big Little Lies and Young Sheldon) and Sebastian Stan (Marvel’s Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier). Let me say that are alarmingly artificial. Armitage’s portion shows his life being torn apart by his parent’s divorce (played by Mandy Moore and Max Greenfield) because of his father’s drinking. Later, the film clumsily attempts to convey the reason behind his chronic self-medication and is muddled on the matter.

Stan’s role as Steve is as a young man meeting his wife for the first time while performing at a comedy club (seriously, it’s that type of film) as they swap their family tragedies. The difference is, the new eye of his affection, Karen (Maika Monroe: It Follows, and the worst film of 2018, Tau), can handle personal tragedies without substance abuse, where Steve can’t. He becomes a functional alcoholic, losing his job, despite having so much to live for, like a beautiful wife and young son. Most of the scenes here don’t ring true, with its manufactured and hokey setting gives a Lifetime movie feel.

I’m Not Here was written and directed by Michelle Schumacher, who is also the wife of J.K. Simmons, and her film is will surely be considered negatively as a whole. The issue is that one-half of the film is so well done. It is visually striking, with a masterful use of lights, shadows, tone. You must wonder what happened on the cutting-room floor during the film’s flashback sequences. Some films need to be remade, not just the good (Point Break) to great ones (Diabolique), but the imperfect films with hidden greatness.

The scripted flashback scenes could have been cleverly played out. Allowing the viewer to piece the puzzle together as it arrived at its climax since memory loss is a byproduct of chronic, functioning alcoholism. Instead, they are played straight-forward, which is fine, but the end of the film suddenly takes a 180-degree turn that can be looked at as, for lack of a better term, a cop-out to coddle the film’s audience. The final scenes are so ambiguous; you could argue they were made up in the protagonists’ heads as a way for Steve to carry on, or they may have happened. It’s all up to your interpretation. Unfortunately, everything in this half leading up to the closing moments are hokey and land face-first into saccharine territory.

The performance of J.K. Simmons is worth a star alone, and if he wasn’t in the film, I’m certain this would have never been released theatrically (the film has been in holding for nearly 2 years since being released on the festival circuit). He’s worn out, alcohol-soaked visual is so expressive and mesmerizing; if a match was lit around him, I’m sure we’d be calling in Kurt Russell to snuff the flames (that’s a Backdraft reference, for anyone wondering what I’m talking about). To go along with a Christian Bale-like physical transformation, this would surely be held in high regard with the likes of Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas or Nick Nolte in Affliction.

We will have to hope the film is remade someday with the J.K. Simmons’ role/half intact and with the same care taken with the other.

1 thought on “‘I’m Not Here’ Film Review

  • March 15, 2022 at 9:26 am
    Permalink

    You almost got it. The flashback scenes are intentionally flat because they weren’t happening in real time but merely in his imagination. And as you point out “memory loss is a byproduct of chronic,” so he probably didn’t even get what he does remember correct. No way would his memory remember details.

    The ending also was intentionally open to lead the audience to discussion. Does every movie need to tell you what to think, feel, etc? I think you almost got it again, the kid was hit and JK pulled the trigger and that’s his heaven now-saving his kid at the time it happened (which is why it’s old JK with the young boy)

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