“Arnaud Desplechin’s Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian is a curious case,” writes Max Nelson in Reverse Shot. Co-written with with Julie Peyr and NYFF director of programming Kent Jones, it’s “a scrupulously faithful adaptation of Georges Devereux’s influential work of psychology-cum-anthropology Reality and Dreams that toes a narrow, wobbly line between honoring and subverting traditional therapy’s reliance on the spoken word. Devereux… came to Topeka in 1946 to work with the celebrated psychiatrist Karl Menninger at the latter’s clinic for war veterans. In his book, he cites the clinic’s initial referral message: ‘We have an Indian patient, who, in terms of our usual criteria, may conceivably be psychotic. At the same time… he may merely be an Indian, whose personality makeup and behavior we do not fully understand.’ … At its best, Jimmy P is a chance to see two terrific actors propose two very different strategies for working through—and with—language. There’s Mathieu Amalric as Devereux, shooting out mellifluous flurries of words in a state of constant, edgy excitement, and Benicio del Toro carefully stringing one syllable to the next in response as if each were its own leap of faith…. Watching both approaches bounce off one another is thrilling, and would probably be enough to sustain a feature on its own.”
“The burden of the narrative rests on the restorative nature of this procedure,” writes Jesse Cataldo at Slant, “and while there’s never any melodrama affixed to it, the beats are rote and expected, as is the conversation attached to them. This means that Arnaud Desplechin’s film grows increasingly dull as it beats a cautious path toward Jimmy’s recovery, resorting to Psych 101 imagery and monotonous dream sequences, all of which lead to the usual breakthroughs… Yet there are some interesting, if not completely legible, things going on beneath the film’s text, which seem to subvert the seemingly straightforward presentation of Jimmy’s healing process. Key is the fact that the talking cure, by which Jimmy has his issues labeled and in many ways simplified, is akin to the progression by which foreign cultures pass into the American melting pot…. Devereux is teaching Jimmy to adapt.”
For Time Out New York‘s Joshua Rothkopf, Jimmy P “plays more like David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method than the schmaltzy Awakenings, building a quiet compassion that takes second place to an unlikely cross-cultural exchange. The explosive, messy complexity of Desplechin’s prior triumphs Kings & Queen and A Christmas Tale is tamped down somewhat—a shame—but the director finds a route to his signature motif: talking out the pain.”
“A film built around psychotherapy that isn’t ironic?” asks New York‘s David Edelstein. “Then the weirdness creeps in—via Jimmy P’s dreams and the spiritual displacement they evoke. It’s a static, often rhythmless film—but I need to see it again before pronouncing a Final Judgment.”
For Indian Country Today Media Network, Dominique Godreche interviews Desplechin (parts 1 and 2) and Del Toro, while Rob Schmidt talks with Blackfeet actress Misty Upham. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes. Jimmy P screens today and again on Sunday in New York.
Update, 10/5: For Gary M. Kramer, writing for Film International, Jimmy P “has a meandering, melancholic tone that is only intermittently interesting. The parts seem greater than the whole.”
Update, 10/13: Jonathan Robbins interviews Desplechin for Film Comment.