By Shawn McKenzie 09/17/2006
The movie opens with the description of “fac-tō-tum”…which is “A Man Who Performs Many Jobs.” This certainly describes Henry “Hank” Chinaski (Matt Dillon.) Hank is a writer who writes three or four short stories a week that he sends to John Martin, the founder and editor-in-chief of Black Sparrow Press…the only publication he respects (he keeps receiving rejections by them however.) He doesn’t believe that he is ready for a novel yet though. One reason why he may not be ready is that he is an alcoholic who can’t hold down a job. In the course of the movie, he works in an ice-making plant, a pickle factory, a bicycle supplies warehouse, a janitor in a museum, and more. He loses all of them (or doesn’t even get the job at the interview because they discover his criminal and driving record) because of his drinking problem. One day, while drinking in a bar (natch), he meets and falls in love with Jan (Lili Taylor), a fellow drunk. They end up moving in together after three days, and apparently Jan is used to having sex with Hank four times a day. At one of his jobs (the bicycle supplies warehouse), he meets Manny (Fisher Stevens), a co-worker who shares one of Hank’s other interests…playing the ponies. They start betting on the horses together, and they end up doing very well. Finally, Hank has some money as a bookie for his fellow warehouse co-workers, and that doesn’t sit well with Jan. She only likes Hank poor and humble, so she leaves him. Hank soon meets Laura (Marisa Tomei), a hooker who lives with a rich French guy named Pierre (Didier Flamand), along with Jerry (Adrienne Shelly) and Grace (Karen Young)…two of Pierre’s other girls. That relationship doesn’t last long…and neither does the money. He reconnects with Jan again, and they live together again in boozy bliss…and maybe he may even write that novel someday.
Movies about depression have never appealed to me. Movies, like 2002’s The Hours and 2003’s Lost in Translation, made me feel depressed…and I don’t like being depressed. Add alcohol to the mix, and you get even more pathetic down-in-the-dumps tales, such as 1987’s Barfly, or this movie…Factotum.
The late Charles Bukowski wrote both Barfly (a screenplay he wrote himself) and Factotum (written by director Bent Hamer and Jim Stark, and based on Bukowski’s second novel), and they are practically the same movie. Both movies have a writer character named Henry Chinaski, Bukowski’s alter ego (played by Mickey Rourke in Barfly), who meets a fellow drunk woman (played by Faye Dunaway in Barfly), and they fall in drunken love. In both movies, Henry has a friend who helps him prosper financially (played by Alice Krige in Barfly), but in the end, he becomes a drunken loser. So…did I like Barfly? Umm…no. That’s also why I didn’t like this movie.
The miserable story wasn’t un-enjoyable because of the acting. Dillon and Taylor played their parts well. I’ve always thought that Dillon was a good actor, but it wasn’t until his Oscar nomination for last year’s Crash that the awards crowd took notice. If there is any reason to see the movie, it is to watch Dillon’s downbeat but funny performance. The movie is mostly about Dillon, but Taylor fit well in her role (Henry/Hank’s other girlfriend, played by Tomei, wasn’t bad, but you know that the only relationship that counted was between Henry and Jan.)
Norwegian director Hamer is making his American theatrical debut with Factotum, and he is not getting to a good start with me. Other critics loved this movie (it is receiving a 76% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer as of this writing), but my theory is that most critics are depressed themselves (whether or not they are alcoholics is another matter.) Honestly…what is the point of watching a movie about someone’s sad life that has no payoff? I guess the argument is that it makes the movie more realistic, but for me, I go to movies to get away from the things that suck in my life. Only Nicolas Cage’s gloomy movies (1995’s Leaving Las Vegas, last year’s The Weather Man) have entertained me for some odd reason (there’s something about watching the sad sack actor that works for me.) Watching this movie made me want to suck back a cold one…and I don’t drink!
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