I'm Not Here
Steve (J.K. Simmons) has hit rock bottom. He's depressed, suicidal and suffers from alcoholism. Just as he's about to pull the trigger of a gun he aims at his head, he recalls good and bad memories from his past including when he (Sebastian Stan) first met his wife, Karen (Maika Monroe) years ago, and lost her and their son, Trevor (Jeremy Maguire), in a tragic accident. He also recalls his childhood as a six-years-old (Iain Armitage) living with his mother (Mandy Moore) and alcoholic father (Max Greenfield) who eventually got divorced.
I'm Not Here is a heartfelt, but clunky and heavy-handed character study that relies too much on lazy flashbacks to tell its story. There's nothing wrong with using flashbacks as long as they're used in a way that doesn't distract from the film's narrative and emotional momentum. The less flashbacks, the better. Three good examples of flashbacks used effectively in a drama are Shirley Valentine, Puzzle of a Downfall Child and The Music Never Stopped. Gloria Bell, which also opens this weekend, is a much more powerful, intelligent, nuanced and sensitively written character study that avoids the use of flashbacks while trusting the audience's imagination and brimming with warmth, wit and honesty. Every film needs some levity to counterbalance any heavy themes, but I'm Not Here doesn't have nearly enough, so it ends up feeling monotonous and somewhat exhausting, ultimately.
I'm Not Here's screenplay by writer/director Michelle Schumacher and co-writer Tony Cummings doesn't have any wit, emotional depth or nuance, but what it does offer in spades is a raw performance by J.K. Simmons who's just as convincingly moving here as he was in The Music Never Stopped. It's his bravura performance that compensates for the screenplay's shortcomings while grounding the film in humanism, a truly special effect missing most Hollywood films these days. Unfortunately, the flashback scenes aren't nearly as poignant, so if the screenplay were to have focused more on the present-day scenes and incorporated the flashbacks sparingly, it would have been a much more powerful, haunting and captivating experience.