Who says the great wave of independent films is over? Alison Maclean's recent film "Jesus' Son" is a classic example of the kind of film that defines 'independent.' Based on a series of related short stories by Denis Johnson, it's a wonderfully odd romance, the portrait of a young drifter, sometime heroin addict and petty criminal, not so affectionately known to his friends as Fuckhead. He's played by Billy Crudup (the rock band leader in "Almost Famous"), and as we follow his varied travails he tells us in voiceover some of the reasoning behind what's happening to him.
The film is at once poignant, funny, and compelling, anchored by a bravura performance by Crudup, who can appear to sway slightly on his feet without moving a muscle, and whose sweet, uninflected voice can flatten even the most horrific moments, transforming them into just another pothole on the road of life.
The film is set in 1971, mostly around Iowa City, and then ending in Phoenix, and is frontloaded with everything from paisley bell bottoms to joints. Crudup meets junkie Michelle (Samantha Morton) and they set themselves up in a little downscale love nest. But as with everything in Fuckead's life (the only name he's known by in the film), it is destined not to last. She leaves him, he looks for her, he meets with accidents (he wearily predicts one of them) and even brings one victim back to life (the Jesus reference in the title?). He finds her again, again he loses her. There are bizarre adventures, including an encounter with a man who's got a hunting knife stuck in his eye. Everywhere lies the unexpected, which Maclean and her screenwriters have transformed into the almost-normal. There's AA groupie Holly Hunter, who has apparently had more husbands than Zsa Zsa Gabor, and disabled patient Dennis Hopper, with bullet holes in both cheeks, and the Mennonite wife whom Fuckhead peeps at through her windows.
This strangely faceted story, episodic and not quite linear, sometimes rounding back on itself to clarify what was unsaid earlier, is putty in the hands of Maclean, who moves the pieces around, into and out of the light like one of those cheap crystals of the era, that we once hung in our windows. Adam Kimmel's cinematography captures the cheesy life of undecorated rooms and windswept street corners. But we are haunted by the life and times of Fuckhead. It is a wonderful film.