Film aficionados will revel in the imagery, the representation of dysfunctional America and the oh so jerky, grainy camera work. However, I found myself asking what is the point of being so deep and meaningful when the end result is such a tortuous episode for the viewer? A portrayal of life for those suffering with schizophrenia sounds both laudable and interesting, but Julien Donkey-Boy is neither. As far as a genre classification goes, this is beyond Gritty, below Grimy and descends into an new area altogether; Grubby.
All the characters barring Julien’s pregnant sister (Chloe Sevigny), are represented extremely negatively. Julien himself (Ewen Bremner) is not only abused by his family, but his actions are often at best, unclear and at worst, disturbingly ambiguous. His wrestling brother (Evan Neumann) is abusive, gormless and shallow, and then we come to Dad…
Julien’s former military father is played by, who else but the legendary Werner Herzog! He literally left me speechless as he squirts his son with a cold hose pipe, makes Julien punch himself ‘because his face is so stupid’ and breaks his daughter’s harp while calling her a slut (gasp). We’re in near-nun killing territory here! (You can't kill nuns - evlkeith) And all spoken in that lovely kind voice he uses to interview people so sensitively in the likes of Grizzly Man and Into the Abyss. It’s a terrible world.
Add to this some aggressive-on-the-ear albino rapping, the fact that every shot and/or scene lasts about twice as long as it optimally should, and the most depraved act of cigarette smoking ever witnessed, and you’ve got yourself a gruelling ninety minutes of non-entertainment ahead of you. 1 point for the sister, 1 point for the smoker and 1 point for Werner, just for being himself, means a very generous score of…
If you like this you could also try:
Gummo, Mister Lonely, The Idiots.