Another grotty drama about junkie love? Well, yes. But while I am in no hurry ever to sit through another movie in which a skinny young man in his underpants and a skinny young woman in her bra slap their noodly arms, then shoot up, eat Fritos, fight, have sex, and rob a deli — or some such — I make an exception for Jesus’ Son. Alison Maclean’s unpredictable yet stylistically controlled adaptation of short stories by Denis Johnson follows the tracks of a skinny young man (Billy Crudup) universally known as FH, shorthand for his apparent full name, F—head.
True to his name, FH does manage to F up everything in his life, at least for a good long while. United in mutual self-destruction with his girlfriend, Michelle (Samantha Morton), he spirals downward, careening into other damaged knockabouts on his way, some of whom crash for good. Georgie (Jack Black — always nice to have him back) works with FH as a hospital orderly, gobbling pills on the job. Divorced and bitter Wayne (Denis Leary) smashes up his house, with FH’s help.
But Jesus, or at least the redemption He offers, touches this misbegotten son; having hit bottom, FH begins to float upward, back to loving connections with other wrecks (including a half-paralyzed participant in his rehab group, played by Holly Hunter). There are all too many possibilities to play up skankiness for skankitude’s sake here, but Maclean (”Crush”) regularly outfoxes conventionality, finding humor in the midst of squalor, and gentleness where other junkie pix settle for sullenness. And she pulls another magnificent performance out of Morton (Sweet and Lowdown), the most riveting, non-actressy actress working today. Morton’s Michelle is a lovable woman first, a user only second, and never, for a moment, a star turn played by a star who has sculpted her junkie arms with a personal trainer. B+