Like the genre itself—indie comedies—the title will repel some people and attract others. I was intrigued, especially given the cover art and the premise. This one’s about a test-tube-baby genius who puts his precocious brain to work trying to locate his father—a man who, when asked why he donated his sperm, shrugs, “I didn’t know what else to do with it.”
That line is typical of the humor in “Jesus Henry Christ,” so named because a persecuted lad named Henry comes from a family whose pet profanity is to shout “Jesus H. Christ” at every opportunity. And there are plenty—especially early on, when we get the family history . . . of attrition. “JHC” opens with a hilarious re-enactment of what happened to Henry’s maternal grandma and four uncles, explaining why his family has come down to just grandpa—a former Chicago cop whose colorful personality will remind folks of the grandpa in “Little Miss Sunshine”—and his feminist mom, Patricia.
The first act is the funniest, with Hannah Brigden endearing as the anxious and obviously traumatized Patricia, but Jason Spevack is so engaging as Henry that it’s also humorous watching the 10 year old navigate the treacherous terrain of grade school . . . then high school . . . then college. The focus is on Henry, his mom (Toni Collette), and Grandpa Stan (Frank Moore), who agrees to go to an assisted care facility after seeing a nurse that catches his eye.
There are nice touches and running gags involving post-it notes and a special lighter that add texture to an otherwise straightforward plot. Aside from Henry’s character arc, the closest thing we get to a side plot comes when scientist-author Dr. Slavkin O’Hara (Michael Sheen) is introduced, along with the 12-year-old daughter (Samantha Weinstein as Audrey) who may or may not be Henry’s half sister. How this pair of young “freaks” engages and plots to find out the truth becomes the thrust of the final third of the film.
If the rest of the film had the same quirky energy as the first third, I would have given “Jesus Henry Christ” a 7 out of 10. But because the rest isn’t as funny, I have to knock it down a notch. But “Jesus Henry Christ” is about as entertaining as 6-out-of-10 films get. Collette turns in another terrific performance, and the screenplay from writer-director Dennis Lee incorporates intelligent dialogue. Tonally, though, that first third feels slightly different, driven by more stylized comedy.
“Jesus Henry Christ” is rated PG-13 for disturbing images and situations. There’s no nudity here, and really not that much in the way of language. But there is some implied violence of a rather shocking (and shockingly funny) nature.
Presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio, “Jesus Henry Christ” has a noticeable layer of film grain throughout, but not so much that it becomes a distraction. Colors are true-looking, as are skin tones, and there’s plenty of contrast.
The audio is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 that delivers clean- and precise-enough dialogue, which drives the film. There’s not much in the way of ambient noise or effects. Just center-speaker dialogue, mostly.
Fans get brief interviews with the cast (Sheen, Collette, Spevack, Weinstein, Moore) and writer-director Dennis Lee, but they mostly talk about their takes on their characters. I would have preferred more behind-the-scenes stuff than interpretation.
Like “Little Miss Sunshine,” this quirky indie comedy chugs along at an amiable pace, and with the same sort of dysfunctional family humor. It’s not as successful as that film, but only because it’s not as complex and there’s not much in the way of insights and underlying messages. What’s here is entertaining, despite those shortcomings.