Jesus Henry Christ Review: Dark Comedy At It’s Finest

When I tend to watch movies, they tend to fall into a handful of camps: I like slow, thoughtful, gentle movies like “Her” in which the central theme has little violence but the end result is a careful, meticulous sort of movie that makes you consider some aspect of our world as a whole.

When I’m not into that, I like science fiction movies that generally deal with the future and what it might look like. I loved the “small town” future of Back The The Future II and the colourful apocalypse that was Ultraviolet [though, everything else about that movie was abysmal.]

Then, sometimes, I like fantasy movies – but I can never take my fantasy very seriously. Even in a serious fantasy [like “The Princess Bride” or the like] I prefer that there’s at least some levity to the proceedings.

But most of all, I love comedies. Be they animated or not. One sort of comedy I don’t regularly go for is black comedy because I feel like either that straddles the line between funny and sometimes gross or just because it’s a very difficult thing to pull off properly. “It’s Kind Of A Funny Story” did it immensely well, but a lot of that was down to the pacing, acting and slow story telling.

So, when I did some reading about Jesus Henry Christ, I figured two things: either it was going to be a silly comedy, especially given it’s plot, or it was going to be a very straight-laced sort of affair. The other thing I was worried about was the fact that it had child actors in it.

Don’t get me wrong. Some child actors are amazing, but very often, what W C Fields said about children and animals often rings true: “Never work with children or animals.” Often, movies that do both have to absolutely either revolve around the children or need to be re-written.

The movie has four protagonists.  While Henry is the driving force behind the search for his father, we learn a little about everyone:  Slavkin, Audrey, Patricia and of course Henry.  Here they are all in one scene, together, in an elevator
Trying to figure out who Henry’s father is via Biological methods

So, Jesus Henry Christ accepts that it’s a movie about a child. A very smart, very able child in the form of Henry Herman. Henry – as far as he’s aware – is a petri-dish baby, but he doesn’t know who his father is.

Most of the movie is concerned with that mystery, slowly unfurling it as Henry delves into the secrets of his family – learning what he can from his mother, Patricia while sometimes spending afternoons with his grandfather, Stan – trying to wheedle information out of anyone who knew anything about his conception.

Henry eventually crosses paths with a Professor O’ Hara who, as an experiment, has raised his daughter in an environment free from gender bias. He goes on to publish a book which – in the end – does not serve his daughter well at all. Given that she’s growing up and given that the children around her are – well – children – she is teased a great deal for exactly how she was nurtured.

These strands flow in and out of the movie as the focus gets teased around a little – sometimes looking in on Patricia and her struggle with her particular brand of feminism, sometimes focussing on Audrey and her plight as she lives in a particular hell of school bullying and sometimes just peeling back and following Henry as he unravels the mystery of his father.

The net result is that – upon first inspection, at least – Jesus Henry Christ might feel very two dimensional – like the strands on the surface or so over the top and so in your face that the other, more subtle pieces of storytelling remain in the background.

Patricia has a talk with Slavkin about the book he's writing next.  This whole idea - of a room with Post-it notes everywhere - is amazing.
Slavkin’s writing den is filled with Post-it notes for a book.

This truly is a movie to walk away from and ponder. Underneath the overt storytelling, there’s a lot going on under the hood that makes for compelling discussion: What is a nuclear family, really? What is normal and how does that even work? How does our upbringing tie into everything we see and do as adults? Where do our priorities start and stop with family? All of these questions simmer beneath the surface of a movie that moves along at a fairly rapid clip, never giving you space to consider most of these ideas until well after the screen has gone dark.

But for as long as the movie is running, you won’t really consider these questions, because it moves fairly quickly. There’s always something interesting happening on screen or in the dialogue and the direction never really gives the piece space enough to breathe so that you can start parsing what it is you’re watching. And maybe that’s good, because Audrey goes through a very rough time growing up. While I had realized this watching the movie, I only truly grasped how difficult a real person struggling with that situation might have had it once I was sitting back and considering all the little pieces.

One thing I should stress is that this movie isn’t exactly for the faint of heart. While many of the on-screen deaths are played for laughs [this is why it’s a black comedy, after all] they can be a little crass. So, too, can the humour, which takes pot shots at everything [from homosexuality to religion] and doesn’t seem too concerned [until the very end] with how the audience is going to react.

If I have one bone to pick with Jesus Henry Christ, it’s how simply it resolves itself. To this end, it almost feels like a sitcom. “All’s well that ends well” after an hour and a half, but I can understand this to some extent. It had to end somewhere…

Should you watch this? If you like your comedies on the somewhat darker side I can definitely recommend it. Be wary, though. Kids on board. And perhaps a little crassness, too.