Just Jim marks the directorial debut of Welsh actor Craig Roberts, and it’s a staggeringly creative, resourceful piece of filmmaking, displaying a very unique, distinctive vision, without ever compromising on the narrative at hand. Not too bad for a debut, and even more impressive when learning of the fact that Roberts was only 23 years old when making this film.
Having also penned the screenplay, Roberts takes on the lead role, as Jim – an endearingly quirky, ostracised teenager who spends the majority of his time alone with his pet dog, rather than with any of his peers at school. Living in a remote, Welsh village – he is surprised to see that his neighbour is the debonair American Dean (Emile Hirsch) who takes it upon himself to raise Jim’s profile in the community, to help enhance and alter the youngster’s image. Jim knows that if he plays this right, he could well become the coolest kid in town.
Though bearing definite shades of Richard Ayoade – who directed Submarine, the film that first brought Roberts to our attention – any such influences are affectionately implemented, and in no way contrived or imitative. This is a darker tale though, with an uneasy ambiance prevalent – mostly as a result of our unreliable entry point into this world, Jim. He lives in something of a fantasy world, spending his days daydreaming – and what transpires are a set of events that we’re never quite sure genuinely exist. Is this all actually happening or just a figment of an overactive, teenage imagination? It’s that ambiguity which the film survives off – though in regards to the conclusion, perhaps a touch more clarity would be welcomed.
But where Just Jim is most commendable, is within Roberts ability to create this fantastical world that feels far away from the one we know – and yet to deal with severe, human themes such as depression, loneliness and bullying, and to allow for the viewer to invest in the titular role and care for him, blurring the line between reality and surrealism in a rather profound way.