Review: Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian (2013)

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Cast: Benicio del Toro, Mathieu Amalric, Gina McKee
Director: Arnaud Desplechin
Country: France | USA
Genre: Drama
Official Trailer: Here


Editor’s Note: Jimmy P. opens in limited release tomorrow, February 14th

It’s apt and yet ironic too to open on a shot of breezy plains set to the rustic sound of a Native American flute: Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian is a film awash with Americana in all its ugly detail. Like the French analyst who arrives in the Midwest, progressive tactics in tow, to get to the bottom of an Indian war veteran’s issues, director Arnaud Desplechin brings to his subject a cultural distance to—he hopes, at least—allow him the insight a native knows not. But isn’t even that idea—of American nativity as a trait that can be claimed by anyone but the eponym and his people—a little absurd in itself?

Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian is a film awash with Americana in all its ugly detail. Like the French analyst who arrives in the Midwest, progressive tactics in tow, to get to the bottom of an Indian war veteran’s issues, director Arnaud Desplechin brings to his subject a cultural distance to—he hopes, at least—allow him the insight a native knows not.

jimmy_p_2013_4“Where were you entered?” a doctor asks the distant Jimmy, whose sister says France in his stead. “No, I meant where on your body.” The conflation of political and personal identity is of primary interest to Desplechin here, who co-writes with Julie Peyr and Kent Jones. The latter’s film work thus far has exclusively included biographies—he co-directed Martin Scorsese’s A Letter to Elia, among others—and that sensibility prevails in the script’s adaptation of real-life analyst Georges Devereux’s case study. He is played by Mathieu Amalric, who brings a fine wild-eyed intensity to the man as he uncovers more of his charge’s latent issues, and excitedly concludes their probable ties to the historical treatment of his race.

It’s notable, of course, that Amalric acts opposite Benicio del Toro, a Puerto Rican whose casting as Jimmy is one of the film’s more interesting plays on the idea of otherness inherent in American identity. If not perhaps quite so jarring an American-or-other embodiment as Béla Lugosi’s infamous taking of the title role in The Mysterious Mr. Wong, del Toro’s presence is at least incitement to insight. “If the cops show up, you’re Mexican,” Jimmy’s told at a bar; and who, after all, are the cops to know? It’s not for nothing that the screen’s soon alight with a scene from Young Mr. Lincoln, tipping the hat to both the philosophies of the nation’s fathers and the Manifest Destiny with which Ford’s cinema was so obsessed.

It’s a moment of wigs-and-glasses silliness emblematic at least a little of the film itself, which tends to buckle under the weight of its leads’ affected accents and the laboured air of importance in which Desplechin tries to bathe their conversations.

jimmy_p_2013_3Yet as much as it might overflow with such ideas, Jimmy P. is a typical case of function all-but crippled by form. There’s a scene in which Devereux, in efforts to entertain a lady friend in a subplot that’s primarily to blame for the film’s overbearing length, dons a fake beard in imitation of Freud. It’s a moment of wigs-and-glasses silliness emblematic at least a little of the film itself, which tends to buckle under the weight of its leads’ affected accents and the laboured air of importance in which Desplechin tries to bathe their conversations. It’s not only for Howard Shore’s score that we might come to think of A Dangerous Method; there’s a certain stuffiness to the drama as it drones on, the feeling of a film never fully sure how to free itself from the strains of factual obligation.

That’s the tough reality of a film forged from scenes of people sitting about discussing ideas and ideology: no matter how interesting they might be, it’s as lithe as a lecture on a warm summer day. Desplechin, sharp enough to be aware, directs as dynamically as he can in a largely stilted framework, using Jacques Audiard cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine’s close-up framing and Laurence Briaud’s minorly manic cutting to enliven his dialogue scenes among plentiful dream-visualisations that offer an expanse of expressive imagery yet tend gradually to grate the more explanatory they become. The movie, too: Jimmy P. offers an interesting psychoanalytic angle on American identity, if one steeped in a slog of a narrative that never quite connects with its characters.

[notification type=”star”]58/100 ~ MEDIOCRE. Jimmy P. offers an interesting psychoanalytic angle on American identity, if one steeped in a slog of a narrative that never quite connects with its characters.[/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.