The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Jamesy Boy

It's hard to resist a redemption story, but it's also hard to do one without teetering over into melodrama. That is the dilemma faced by Jamesy Boy. Based on the admittedly dramatic true story of a former teen delinquent, the film holds your attention with its tale of a kid going down the drain and then pulling himself back up again. But it also tells this story in such a heavy-handed, didactic way that its potential inspirational value is vastly undermined.

Spencer Lofranco plays James, a troubled kid who can no longer get into public school because of his history of behavioral problems. His mother Tracy (Mary-Louise Parker) goes to bat for him, to no avail. James doesn't believe in himself, so why should anyone else? In lieu of education, he gets a job working for a local drug dealer introduced to him by a flirty young associate (Parenthood's Rosa Salazar). Before long, he's working his way up the gang chain. Then he falls for nice girl Sarah (Taissa Farmiga) and starts to think better of his illegal choices. Things happen, and he ends up in jail, where he clashes with a fellow inmate (played by Black Eyed Peas member Taboo) and the hard-as-nails warden (James Woods). Ving Rhames plays Conrad, a lifer who eventually becomes something of a Yoda to James and eventually helps him find the path to a better life.

Jamesy Boy cuts back and forth between James's time in jail and the things that led up to his incarceration. This kind of approach works when there's some vital piece of information – a “surprise,” more or less – that makes the story more powerful when it's withheld from us until a specific moment. There is no such information here, so the fractured timeline serves no real purpose. The film might have played more strongly had the story been told chronologically, allowing us to follow James from the beginning of his arc to the end. It doesn't help that director Trevor White hits every note as hard as he can. There's not a lot of subtlety in Jamesy Boy; in scene after scene, the tone is one of heavy import, as though the movie wants to make sure you're paying attention to how desperate James's situation is becoming. It's all a touch overdone – melodramatic, as I said before.

Nonetheless, the film does have some very good qualities, starting with the performances. Spencer Lofranco nicely captures the kind of F-you attitude that makes someone like James their own worst enemy. The character blames everybody else for his troubles, but it's really he who is causing them. Parker, Woods, and, especially, Rhames are all strong, too. Each of them serves as some sort of mirror for James. They reflect his troubles back on him, forcing him to confront not only how he's hurt himself, but also his loved ones and society in general.

It's also hard to deny that, even when melodramatic, the events of the story are interesting. How could they not be? We all know a kid just like this, someone who thinks being a screw-up is all they're capable of, and so that's what they do. Watching the clearly-wounded James try to maintain his tough-guy facade amid increasingly unpleasant circumstances is involving at a certain level, even if his journey never quite hits as powerfully as the film intends.

All in all, Jamesy Boy is a mixed bag. Other films on the same subject have been done better, and others have been done worse. It won't bore you, but it's not likely to rock your world either.

( 1/2 out of four)

Note: Jamesy Boy opens in limited release on January 17, and is available on VOD now.

Jamesy Boy is unrated, but contains violence, drug content, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 49 minutes.

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