Many actors take the leap from in front of the camera to behind it, while more common for established names who want to try something new or complete a passion project they’ve been sat on for years – there has been a swelling of young actors adding themselves to that list of illustrious veterans. Craig Roberts is the latest. The 24-year-old, best known for Submarine, directs his début with Just Jim; a small yet ambitious domestic working class drama set in his native valley’s of Wales.
Not only is Roberts directing he also stars as the titular Jim. A teenager isolated and bullied by his classmates and not above lying to his family for attention, his only reprieves come from his dog and occasional trips to the local cinema that perpetually repeats the same Film Noir. This depression isn’t solely on the shoulders of the young outcast; its endemic in his family, his teachers and any adult who he has extended contact with. Roberts spends the first 20 laying on a thick aura of depression to build up the arrival of his new neighbour, Dean. Played by Emile Hirsch, Dean is everything that Jim isn’t and after they meet he takes it upon himself to help his new neighbour escape his sombre existence by befriending the cool kids and getting the girl – the typical 1980s teen movie tropes.
The small town as a depressive pit that needs to be escaped is the centre piece of Roberts’ film going to no small lengths to make this a reality, the debuting director displays an understanding beyond his years in achieving this. More naive writers and directors have confused depression with a quiet sadness, and while there are lashings of that there is a tone that only someone who has gone through depression and understands it could relate to. The way Robinson carries himself in his performance, the dialogue of those suffering and the very desire to escape, it all communicates a greater understanding of the debilitating mental illness. This may well be the desired effect of the film, Robinson’s script bulldozes through depression steam-rolling into navel gazing. A trait in any script that makes it incomparably difficult to sympathise with, even the arrival of Dean cannot lessen this impact.
Ryan Gosling also made his directorial début in 2015 and the biggest criticism that was levelled at his otherwise vivid Lost River was that it played out like a checklist of inspirations. Just Jim is guilty of the same, with central focus playing on the idiosyncrasies of David Lynch’s filmography. The degradation of the mental state is often used as an impetus for surrealism which accounts for much of the second half of Robert’s feature. Using motifs such as aimlessly swimming under water, eccentric montaging and peculiar conversations with those he is most familiar with, there is an impressive scope in how the director has opted to tell his story. Perhaps hopelessly derivative but an enjoyable spectacle nonetheless.
Just Jim is an incredibly raw directorial début from a young director, after all not everybody comes as complete as Xavier Dolan did. If a little rough around the edges and toothless in its comedy and 90s setting, it still it stands out as a calling card film with a latent talent begging to be fulfilled. With his eagerness to approach the themes of home-grown social realism with more visually expressive and emotive means, he has put his first foot forward with intriguing purpose.
Just Jim out now on Soda Pictures DVD