Directed by Rick Alverson
Director Alverson's gentle character study is steeped in Southern masculinity: the movie is all work and fraternity, paintball and prayer, donuts, diner food and dirty fingernails; there are long scenes of men working with tires: washing them, inflating them, fitting them, stacking them. Colm O'Leary, who cowrote the screenplay with Alverson (whose more peculiar The Comedy had a run at BAM earlier this month), plays an Irish immigrant and non-combat American army veteran living in Richmond, working at a tire center and developing a friendship with his cheery, dimwitted, not-quite-right coworker (Will Oldham in his first big role since Old Joy: his head shaved, his once-mighty whiskers reduced to a mere mustache). O'Leary is weepy, wounded; he cries into a sink, he cries into a cup of soup. But don't assume it's for obvious reasons: when Oldham asks him if he's upset about his year in Afghanistan, he says, "No, I liked it there."
There's something more elemental about his melancholy, which he tries to hide behind a steelier facade. "My burden is who I am," O'Leary says. "It defines me. It makes my decisions for me." New Jerusalem is about getting past that, about getting to the vulnerable core behind the hardened male exterior. One way is through modern medicine; another might be religion. Oldham the evangelical slowly coaxes his new friend to listen to the Gospel of John, to stop by his church. And therein O'Leary finds a level of intimacy, of humility—particularly among men—that's not acceptable in any other context: the touching of hands, even the touching of another man's bare feet. As such, for O'Leary, religion proves a means to an end—like war is to peace, as he says early in the film. But he finds there are other such means beyond faith: friendship, family, even an epileptic cat. All can offer some help toward fighting the fear that keeps us closed off, crying in the bathroom at work.
Opens November 30 at Videology