Movie Review: Jesus Henry Christ
Rating: PG-13 (Violent images, smoking, language)
Length: 92 minutes
Release Date: April 22, 2012
Directed by: Dennis Lee
Stars: 2 out of 5
"Jesus Henry Christ" is a very dark comedy that pushes the envelope to the brink of absurdity. It manages to steer clear of such absurdity mostly due to the strong performances of four main characters. Patricia Herman (Toni Collette), who is a loud and somewhat brash feminist activist, conceives her son Henry (Jason Spevack) with the use of a sperm donor and petri dish. She has raised him all by herself and has done a good job despite the fact that Henry is completely different from other 10-year-old kids.
It turns out that Henry was born a genius and has a photographic memory. He remembers the tiniest details about everything in his life that most people would forget. He has a very inquisitive nature, which naturally leads him to want to find out who his real father is. His mother has done everything possible to prevent him from doing this.
Patricia is a damaged woman. Her loud exterior is a shield for the fact that she has been through a lot of family loss in her life. For a period of time before Henry was born, she lost several family members. She was left to fend for herself and her sick father, Stan (Frank Moore), who has a great relationship with his grandson.
Stan loves Henry and wants him to be happy. The boy is obviously preoccupied with who his biological father is, so Stan gives him some top-secret info about who it might be. That is all the push that young Henry needs to go out and find him.
The father in question is Dr. Slavkin O'Hara (Michael Sheen, doing a fine American accent), who is as dysfunctional as can be. He is a successful professor and book author, but his last book revealed that his teen daughter Audrey (Samantha Weinstein) is a lesbian. Audrey is distraught and emotionally breaks away from Slavkin. The combination of rejection by his daughter and memories of his cheating spouse leaves Slavkin despondent to the point of contemplating suicide. He isn't even sure if Audrey is his biological child, considering how much his wife cheated on him.
This is the worst possible time for an unknown son to come into the picture, so of course that is when Henry finds him. It turns out that Slavkin was a sperm donor in the past, but he hadn't really thought about the repercussions if any child would try to find him. He tries to explain what is going on in his life, seemingly in hopes that it would scare Henry off.
Instead, Henry thinks both of them are a great match. His family's crazy history won't be judged by a man like Slavkin, who obviously has a lot of domestic craziness as well. He insists on trying to form a father-son bond, but first he must tell his mother.
Patricia is not happy at all with what Henry has done. She loathes the thought of trying to form a family because, from her experience, that just means all of them might die. She loves her son, though, so she grudgingly agrees to try and make it work.
The two kids and two adults set out to begin the process of spending time together and getting to know one another. The two kids are the sane ones in the group and quickly form a bond. Both are also clearly smarter than the adults, not just because Henry is a genius. Their emotional maturity and insight far outweigh those of their parents, who can't seem to get them together.
Though this is a comedy through and through, there are a few genuinely heartfelt moments. The script by director Dennis Lee handles the drama well, mimicking some of the style of Lee's previous film, "Fireflies in the Garden." Lee tries to keep it as light as possible and focuses more on quirks and laughs than on emotions.
Lee uses "Jesus Henry Christ" as homage to some of his fellow filmmakers who he is obviously inspired by. There are several scenes that look a lot like Wes Anderson films. In fact, if the audience didn't know that Lee directed it, many might have guessed Anderson did. This is not a bad thing, however, especially for fans of the visual style and quirky nature that both Anderson and Lee seem to prefer in filmmaking.