'Jesus Henry Christ'

A name cast and the backing of India-based Reliance Big will likely push this offbeat quasi-comedy to respectable earnings, if not quite cult status.

Too deliberately eccentric to attain quite the level of wigginess it aspires to, “Jesus Henry Christ” does feature some standout perfs and a refreshingly unconventional approach to telling its slight story, about an angry mom, her artificially inseminated son, an academe and his socially ostracized daughter. A name cast and the backing of India-based Reliance Big will likely push this offbeat quasi-comedy to respectable earnings, if not quite cult status.

If your son sets you on fire with his birthday cake, it’s clear your family has issues. Patricia (Toni Collette) has plenty, including a son, Henry (Jason Spevack) who happens to be a genius. He also has a videographic memory and a rabidly left-leaning political agenda, thanks to Mom, which keeps him in trouble, and out of friendships. His best pal is his policeman grandfather Stan (a sensationally seedy Frank Moore), with the point being that Henry needs a father, since his was supplied via test tube.

Audrey (Samantha Weinstein), is the daughter of author and academic Slavkin O’Hara (Michael Sheen), who has published a book about her upbringing, titled “Born Gay or Made That Way?,” which features a picture of Audrey on its dust jacket. As a result, cries of “Lesbo!” greet her up and down the halls of her school, where the miserable spawn of the Toronto suburbs torture her daily. When she first encounters Henry, she impulsively kisses him, hoping to squelch the lesbo chatter. Apres smooch, Henry promptly announces, for everyone to hear, that he’s her brother, placing him on a list, along with everyone else in the world, of people she hates. Weinstein makes Audrey a wonderfully vitriolic, heartbreaking shrew, whose main target of bile is Dad, especially after some weight is added to Henry’s offhanded comment.

Michael Sheen, in a typical, serenely understated performance, is an oasis of scene-stealing actorly wisdom. Collette is good, too, but her Patricia is such a force of nature the viewer sort of wants to take shelter from her. Aaron Abrams appears recurringly at the sperm-donor bank as a white guy who thinks he’s black, and though he’s pretty funny, it’s never quite clear why he’s in the movie.

But so much of “Jesus Henry Christ,” is that way, from the title to the antics, to the narrative hijinks that Lee puts his characters through. The pace and the torrent of general oddity is furious, with Lee framing his characters tightly and in surreal, tableau-like portraiture.

Tech credits are fine, especially the special effects, which are used to accessorize, not obliterate.

Jesus Henry Christ

Production

A Reliance Big Entertainment presentation of a Red Om Films production in association with IM Global. (International sales: IM Global, Los Angeles.) Produced by Philip Rose, Lisa Gillan, Sukee Chew. Executive producers, Julia Roberts, Deepak Naya. Directed, written by Dennis Lee.

Crew

Camera (color), Danny Moder; editor, Joan Sobel; music supervisor, Koo Abuali; production designer, Rob Pearson; art director, Peter Grundy; set decorator, Jim Lambie; costume designer, Debra Hanson; sound (Dolby), Jonathan Wales, Richard Kiting; supervising sound designer, Brent J. Findley; special effects coordinator, Brock Jolliffe; stunt coordinator, Jamie Jones; visual effects supervisor, Chris Bremble; first assistant director, Steve Webb; associate producer, Katie Wells. MPAA rating: PG-13. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (competing), April 29, 2011. Running time: 92 MIN.

With

Patricia - Toni Collette
Slavkin - Michael Sheen
Henry - Jason Spevack
Audrey - Samantha Weinstein
Stan - Frank Moore

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