Review: ‘Jimmy P.’ is a deceptively straightforward therapy movie

Benicio Del Toro is analyzed by Mathieu Amalric in "Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian." Credit: IFC Films
Benicio Del Toro is analyzed by Mathieu Amalric in “Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian.”
Credit: IFC Films

‘Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian’
Director: Arnaud Desplechin
Stars: Benicio Del Toro, Mathieu Amalric
Rating: NR
3 (out of 5) Globes

What on earth is Arnaud Desplechin doing making a therapy movie? And is “Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian” even “just” a therapy movie? The French filmmaker is perhaps best known for “Kings and Queen” and “A Christmas Tale,” two fits of cinematic drunkenness overflowing with ideas, incidents, allusions and anything else he can cram into them. Meanwhile, “Jimmy P.” — his first in five years — mostly takes place in a series of rooms, listening in as a French therapist (Mathieu Amalric, Desplechin’s regular star/muse) chats with Benicio Del Toro’s titular Blackfoot Indian, who may have acquired brain trauma fighting in WWII.

The main thrust may be the same as any therapy movie: Amalric’s Georges Devereux — like Jimmy, a real person — gets if not to the bottom of his patient’s problems then at least tames them. The music (by Howard Shore) is intense and intrusive, classical. At last the patient is cured and all seems to be well.

Or is it? There’s a certain unease with the way the film ends, making one wonder if they watched the movie incorrectly. It’s not simply that it seems unlikely that a great director — which Desplechin is — would just make a movie about the glories of treatment. (That one of his screenwriters is Kent Jones, the great critic and curator, also factors into this.) It’s that littered throughout are little details that suggest there’s something else going on — another movie under the movie.

For one thing, Devereux is no traditional shrink. He’s not even an M.D. He’s more anthropologist than psychotherapist, and it’s his knowledge of Native American life that makes him the ideal person to interrogate Jimmy. (He’s also unfailingly gracious and enthusiastic — a sharp contrast to the frazzled monsters he’s entertainingly played in Desplechin’s previous films. Safe to say no one has ever been as excited as he is to go to Topeka, Kansas.)

Their relationship is more chummy than professional, but not too chummy. Jimmy may talk to Devereux, but he rarely breaks his usual stiff linebacker pose, slowly plowing through his confessions, saying his lines as though through recitation. But there’s a side we rarely see. We’re told he’s a drunk, who goes off at night and returns to the hospital plastered. But we rarely see this side of him. We’re seeing a small fraction of what makes up Jimmy. And unfortunately it’s this side that Devereux is treating.

There’s also the case of Freudian analysis. There’s much talk about Jimmy’s dreams, including a belligerent, faceless cowboy and a fox that turns into a woman. Desplechin depicts these in a plain, matter-of-fact style, one not far removed from the simple flashbacks that start to eat up the second half. Desplechin previously made the film “Esther Kahn,” another deceptively straightforward study of an “ill” person and their mentor. That concerned Method acting — another fad that today is held with suspicion, if it’s not considered disproved.

That Devereux is able to alleviate Jimmy’s pain is not in doubt. Whether he’s actually gotten to the bottom of what ails him is less sure. “Jimmy P.” ends on a strange note, with Devereux himself on the couch, trying to deny that he made a deeper connection with his patient than he did. The stability of his own life is repeatedly called into question. He’s visited by a “friend” (Gina McKee) who’s really his married mistress — another relationship, like the one he has with Jimmy, that exists in a nebulous middle space.

Is this the key to getting anything out of “Jimmy P.”? It’s an elusive film, one that opens up on a second viewing but not so much that it magically transforms. Sometimes it seems like Deplechin and team are in a contest to see how subtle they can be. It’s mysteriously interesting, almost a Rorschach Test, with little details sprinkled throughout that we may or may not catch. It’s open to your interpretation.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge


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