If John Cassavetes had lived to make one of the ‘American Pie’ films, chances are it would have come out a bit like this, Steve Buscemi’s third film as director, which he made before last year’s tepid, over-stagey ‘Interview’. Crystallising life in the American Midwest, the film follows eternal sadsack Jim (Casey Affleck), an aspirant author forced prematurely to terminate a shot at independence in New York and return – bruised and penniless – to the maternal hub in rural Indiana; an event he sees as an admission of total failure.
Skulking around town in a chocolate brown beanie, he’s a mess of sexual longing, literary pretension and Oedipal rage, selfishly waving his ‘manic depression’ in the faces of his resilient, unshakably chirpy mother (Mary Kay Place), stern father (Seymour Cassel), fuck-up brother (Kevin Corrigan), and a sultry local nurse (Liv Tyler), often for it to rebound straight back into his face with bitterly funny results.
Though this clash of picket-fenced, down-home values and big city oafishness was handled with a little more delicacy in 2005’s superb ‘Junebug’, Buscemi’s film has lots to say about this fruitful dynamic, and he’s careful not to steer his characters too close to parody (though Place sometimes comes within a hair’s breadth). Sure, some of the set-ups are a little broad (the scenes of Jim being forced to coach his brother’s pre-teen basketball team are a hoot), but Buscemi’s brusque direction, James C Strouse’s awkward-pause-laden script and a great alt.country soundtrack really lift the material.