Adroll, shrewdly structured indie gem, “Jerome” is like a quiet version of a Coen brothers movie. Splendidly crafted and inspiring in its simplicity, pic has a future much brighter than the offbeat hopelessness its narrative presents. Having already played some regional fests and set for AFI Fest presentation, film deserves arthouse distribution thereafter.
Focus here is a day in the life of Wade Hampton (Drew Pillsbury), a Bakersfield, Ca., welder who feels trapped in the factory job he’s occupied for 15 years. In a burst of inspiration, he tosses his tools to the side, walks out of the factory, steals a car and heads toward Jerome, Ariz., leaving his wife, teenage son and life as he knew it behind.
Wade has chosen Jerome as his destination because a colleague once gave him a postcard of the place, which is described as a lesbian ghost town by some and an “artists’ community” by others. It turns out Wade’s an artist himself: He spends his spare time secretly welding miniature sculptures.
On the road, Wade picks up a free-spirited, mysterious hitchhiker named Jane (Wendie Malick), who seems to have nowhere to go and nowhere to be. An introspective, cautious man, it takes a while for Wade to accept her compliments about his art. When he finally allows himself to open up to her, the two connect and passionately make love.
The filmmaking trio of Thomas Johnston, David Elton and Eric Tignini interweave the narrative with strange interviews with people from Wade’s past life, including his wife, who seem to be analyzing why Wade “snapped and committed murder.” Not only are these interviews unusually realistic, but they whet our curiosity: Wade certainly doesn’t seem like a killer, and one wonders what will lead him down that path.
“Jerome” is a small, curious movie that is surprisingly sure of itself. Thematically, pic is far from unique — in fact, the theme of a protagonist on a road journey to “find” himself is an exhausted one. Yet the work feels fresh, and the presence of three auteurs is surprising in that what’s on display here seems like the result of a passionate, singular vision.
With minimal dialogue to recite and shot mostly in close-up, Pillsbury gives a lead performance that is all facial expressions and the conveying of emotion with his eyes. He ultimately creates a touching character who simply can’t get a break.
Television vet Malick (“Just Shoot Me,” “Dream On”) is refreshingly unpredictable as Jane. Her motives and past remain a secret, and hints about deep-rooted self-destructiveness make her more intriguing.
“Jerome’s” moody, open-road ambiance is helped by Gina Degirolamo’s unshowy yet often beautiful lensing and the downbeat soundtrack featuring tunes of longing by indie rocker Ben Harper.
Exec produced by the comic actor David Spade, picture moves along smoothly before its theme and purpose become clear. Reminiscent of the works of Jim Jarmusch, it emphasizes character over narrative, image over dialogue. Lacking the visceral emotion and excitement of many of the most successful indies, “Jerome” is a patient, subtle little movie that never hits an awkward note.