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Tribeca 2011: “Jesus Henry Christ,” Reviewed

Tribeca 2011: “Jesus Henry Christ,” Reviewed (photo)

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When Dennis Lee made his first film a few years back called “Fireflies in the Garden,” he made one brilliant hiring decision. It wasn’t Ryan Reynolds or Willem Dafoe, who both starred in the film, but rather the cinematographer Danny Moder, who had but a few credits as a DP to his name and also a wife named Julia Roberts, who took a supporting role in the drama. As it stands, the film has never been released in America, the first of Roberts’ never to do so – and to be fair, the company with the film’s rights went belly up, which had the unintended consequence of making “Jesus Henry Christ” Lee’s debut in his home country, though it may very well be seen by just as few people.

While Roberts doesn’t actually appear onscreen in “Jesus Henry Christ,” it’s her production company (Red OM Films) that made it and should be mentioned, not because it’s intended to be mean to Ms. Roberts or anyone involved, but it goes a long way towards explaining how a disaster like this comes into being. Granted, it was based on a Student Academy Award-winning film by Lee as a Columbia grad student, but without Roberts’ involvement, this film wouldn’t be able to cast Toni Collette and Michael Sheen only to waste them, it would lose its provocative but ultimately empty title, and most likely sit somewhere in the middle of the pile of scripts that holds up the weak end of a producer’s desk. (If it’s of any comfort, Roberts does see a return on her investment in Moder since the film’s visuals are its one redeeming quality.)

But I’m getting ahead of myself, and that’s perhaps because I’m at a loss for how to describe “Jesus Henry Christ.” Maybe a good place to start is the Post-it notes. Multicolored and arranged perfectly around the office of Dr. Slavin O’Hara (Sheen), they may be the best encapsulation of what the film is. You see O’Hara may or may not be the paternal father of Henry (Jason Spevack), a genius child with a photographic memory that has come to seek him out since the only question he doesn’t have an answer for is how he was actually conceived. His mother Patricia (Collette) was a bra-burner in her day, not to mention a daughter who saw her mother burned to a crisp when her father doused her with alcohol in a birthday cake-related incident when she was 10, so she conceived via test tube to avoid males completely.

Now, Henry’s ten himself and she lacks the fire to keep him from searching for his biological father. He doesn’t have to look far as he discovers O’Hara’s book “Born Gay or Made That Way?” and O’Hara in a local bookstore. Conveniently, as a professor at a nearby university, O’Hara doesn’t look far for his subjects, either. His first book was based on studying his daughter Audrey (Samantha Weinstein), who’s mercilessly teased at school as being a “lesbo” after its publication. Once again O’Hara pulls out the Post-it notes for Henry because he lacks the memory to document the wunderkind otherwise.

But Lee has an ulterior motive for the Post-it notes, which are used ultimately to stage a climactic scene where during a storm where O’Hara flings open his office’s windows so that the Post-it notes can swirl around the professor like a rainbow. It isn’t the only 360° shot in the film – the first time the full quartet goes out for lunch, the camera goes round and round the table to document their clear unease with each other, though the main reason your head will spin is from all the BS psychobabble thrown in the direction of the audience.

However, all this motion doesn’t actually move the film forward, nor do digressions like visits with a jive-talking, dashiki-wearing white secretary at the sperm bank, a 10-minute conversation between Henry and his American grandfather in Spanish, or references to Jonathan Frazen being a hack. To Lee, they share the colors of the Post-it notes, bright pastels that burst in every direction, but exist only as messy individual thoughts that never coalesce into a whole.

Mistaking style for substance, “Jesus Henry Christ” would seem to want to tell the story of a makeshift family brought together by unusual circumstance, but the film only winds up pulling them apart, allowing each character to exist only in their private world where they can be a collection of quirks and insecurities rather than identifiable human beings who could possibly relate to each other or anyone else. When the film’s ending finally rolls around with a completely out-of-context admonishment to “Be the change we want to see in the world,” it becomes a sad self-reflexive commentary on how a film that tries so hard to be different ends up being so very average and one that isn’t memorable even with a stack of Post-its.

“Jesus Henry Christ” currently does not have U.S. distribution. It will play the Tribeca Film Festival on April 27th and 30th.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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