Sure to interest anyone who enjoyed 2010’s Submarine, in his directorial debut Craig Roberts directs, writes and stars in Just Jim, the story of a misfit teenager coming of age in suburban Wales. Sound familiar? While both may be similar in premise and protagonist, unlike Ayoade’s quirky tale of young love, Just Jim is darker, stranger and takes many more risks.
Just Jim starts conventionally enough: Jim (Roberts) is a teen loner – he is completely friendless and mercilessly bullied at school. When his dog, his sole companion, disappears, he is left hopeless and depressed. That is until he returns home to find a new neighbour, Dean (Emile Hirsch). A cool, chain-smoking American, he makes Jim his project and attempts to make him popular. As things begin to work out, Jim is delighted, until his new friend turns against him and becomes dangerous. Manipulating Jim’s parents, Dean is set to destroy Jim’s life unless he can find a way to fight back.
There’s an unexpected timeline diversion in Just Jim, which sets a strange tone from early on: love interest Jackie (Charlotte Randall) is addicted to her early 2000s Nintendo, but characters are dressed in fashions ranging from the 50s to the 90s. While it may be Roberts’ novel attempt at indicating the weirdness of Jim’s world, it feels like experimental filmmaking, which, coupled with odd lighting set-ups and intense close-ups, almost recalls a student film. At only 24, Roberts has achieved a great deal in creating such a grand feature film, but there are occasions when tighter writing or less exploratory cinematography wouldn’t go amiss.
In spite of this, there are strong performances, particularly from Hirsch, who plays a crazed (possibly professional) psychopath, and Roberts, doing what he does best: misfit Welsh teen. The story does manage to be compelling and funny at times too, with the improbable events that Dean incites. It is pleasingly dark: Roberts takes his audience to places others may fear to go, which indicates good things to come from this young filmmaker. It is a jarring, interesting black comedy that takes risks whenever it can, but it may have benefited from a little polishing and safety training.
Just Jim is released nationwide on 25th September 2015.
Watch the trailer for Just Jim here: