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Tribeca 2011: Jesus Henry Christ Review

By David Kempler

This Christ is not a Superstar

"Jesus H. Christ" was a very popular exclamation at one time. At least I used to hear some people utter the somewhat odd phrase every once in a while. The phrase has been dragged out of mothballs in writer-director Dennis Lee's overly clever comedy that centers on a 10-year-old boy genius.

Henry James Herman (Jason Spevack) was born in a petri dish. His mom, Patricia (Toni Collette) is a strident feminist who trusts no one and thinks everyone is a bit of a creep. Her constant frenetic behavior is off-putting. This is attributed to her upbringing, which Lee shoves down our throats in the opening ten minutes of "Jesus Henry Christ". Her father is a walking stereotype of an unfeeling, overly patriotic imbecile.

The opening scene takes place in Patricia's home when she is ten. Seated at the table is her mom, her crazy brothers, and her loony father. The occasion is Patricia's tenth birthday. When she lights the candles on her cake, her mother catches fire and dies. Lee then gives us a quick rundown of what will then happen to her family members. Most of her brothers die deaths befitting morons. One brother runs off to Canada to avoid the Vietnam War. Dad survives. The scene is intended to be irreverently comical, but it's only annoying. When you can see something trying to be clever, it's not a good thing.

Henry enters college at the age of ten, but of course he is smarter than all of the other students. He is also smarter than anyone else who ever walked the earth. He isn't particularly grating, but the idea is.

A very bad plot evolves into a family-style dramedy that is supposed to make us both warm and fuzzy, and laughing at all of the sarcastic, ironic, elitist chatter that Lee can fling at us. The effect is one of feeling attacked rather than entertained.

"Jesus Henry Christ" is based on a short film that Lee created that won an Academy Award for Best Short. Lee has really tried to push the envelope here and the envelope folded. I never saw the short but will take the Academy's word for it and accept that it was quality. But now it's time for Lee to move on and make something else, because he has attempted to squeeze out more than exists. Time to put this one to sleep.

What did you think?

Movie title Jesus Henry Christ
Release year 2011
MPAA Rating NR
Our rating
Summary A calm, young genius is surrounded by people careening wildly out of control in what is supposed to be funny. It's not.
View all articles by David Kempler
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