At once a post-Capra urban fantasy and a morality tale about the urban homeless, “Everything’s Jake” is never quite able to arrive at a tone or thematic purpose, leaving several uneasy questions in its wake. Not least of them is pic’s suggestion that the homeless — or at least story’s hero, Jake, who calls Gotham streets home — deliberately choose harsh life instead of security of a roof over their heads. Shot in Super 16mm format and shown at Santa Barbara fest in sub-par digital projection (and hardly promoting electronic cinema’s cause), project may be able to parlay fest’s Burning Vision jury special mention prize into some distrib interest, with most likely destination being cable.
Pic’s first third is overwhelmed by voiceover narration — first by an unidentified voice that introduces Jake as a man “who has been kept a mystery until now,” then by Jake himself (Ernie Hudson), who clearly has his homeless life in order, from playing bongos for change to snatching up pet poop and using it as a commodity. Indeed, Jake seems to be perfectly content with a life that would make most folks rush inside to warm themselves up before a cozy fireplace, until, that is, he meets Cameron (Graeme Malcolm).
After Cameron can’t bring himself to suicide, Jake decides to help him learn the ropes of being homeless. This sense of a vet amusingly teaching a rookie tends to take the edge off of what is truly a desperate lifestyle, and, though Cameron finally reveals that he was once a pianist-turned-teacher whose own prodigy son died 10 years earlier, Jake’s own past and motivations for remaining homeless are doggedly kept a mystery.
Third act’s sudden twist is quite effective, one that compels viewer to review everything that has happened, but is seriously undermined by an ineptly exaggerated depiction of the New York publishing scene. Finale is mild variation on Capra-corn, leaving Jake’s fate as ambiguous as his past.
Given his character’s shaky identity, Hudson delivers a consummately warm and satisfying perf, suggesting a man who has found his metier and is somehow able to exude a calm confidence in the midst of everyday chaos. There is something heroic in this that Hudson refuses to romanticize, despite pic’s flightier tendencies. Malcolm accomplishes an interesting about-face that unfortunately lapses into stereotype.
Willis Burks II brings real grit and humanity to portrayal of Jake’s pal, but support perfs from celebs like Debbie Allen, Lou Rawls and Robin Givens badly mar tale’s credibility. Filmmakers make New York’s wintry chill utterly palpable, but labors to make effective images were nearly undone by digital projection, which tended to bleach out colors.