At such a young age it appears that 24-year-old Craig Roberts has entered a new phase in his already lengthy career. 24 Roberts is hugely talented, and humble with it. A seasoned actor, having been acting since the age of 9, his more notable roles including his role as Rio in the much loved children’s TV-series The Story of Tracy Beaker between 2004-6, as well as his role as Robin in Young Dracula between 2006-8, this seamless step that Roberts has made into directing appears to be an incredibly natural career move, with Just Jim affording Roberts the ability to flex his writing and directing skills.
Just Jim is very much like its title suggests; plain, simple, but joyful. The story of a socially inept, slight awkward teenager (to which Roberts admit in his Close-Up Film interview bears some similarities to his younger self) named Jim who lives a lonely existence in his Welsh hometown. However, when a mysterious, flamboyant, worldly American named Dean moves in next door, Jim quickly attempts to, with Dean’s help, transform his social status from zero to hero.
A somewhat textbook coming-of age-tale, to this Roberts adds equal measures of darkness and humour, resembling in some respect his star turn role in Richard Ayoade’s 2010 smash hit Submarine, Roberts largely utilising his skill at appearing intensely awkward in even the simplest social interactions.
Audiences will be swept into the world Craig creates for his Jim character due to the fact that it is, in many respects, just so darn strange. But strange in the best way: Just Jim plays out as one large warped teenage fantasy which audiences will all have some experience of. Craig presents Wales as a still, disquieting landscape in which you are unsure of the film’s timescape. Costume design that indicates a 90s aesthetic coupled with a significant lack of technology within the film really allows audiences to be immersed in the films storyline (which goes to lengths to indicate that a large majority of the film is set in the mind of the film’s titular character).
The authenticity and sincerity of Just Jim is largely due to the fact that Roberts filmed not only in his hometown, but used real-life locations directly link to his adolescence. From this audiences gauge a real feeling of the place from which Roberts originates. Roberts also reflects on real-life incidents throughout his life, one example in the film being an ill-fated birthday celebration. From this view, it his hard not to relate to Robert’s character who is after a simple goal.
Performances throughout are pitch-perfect, Roberts channeling his best awkward persona to date, whilst Hirsch impresses with his over-the-top, somewhat animated all-American braggadocio. Roberts has allowed the lesser roles considerable screen time too and character-building moments, whist being careful not to overshadow the original focus of the film. Although this is not done perfectly, it is not half bad for a first attempt and Roberts can hardly be faulted for that.
The film has quickly attracted a ‘cult classic’ label, probably because of resonances with much-loved indie films such as Submarine (Ayoade, 2010) and Napoleon Dynamite (Hess, 2004). I’d say that if Roberts can achieve this in his first feature at such a young age, he has an exciting cinematic future ahead of him.
A black comedy of sorts, with dark yet humorous undertones, there is a duality to Roberts’ debut that shows that he is already seasoned in the skills of script writing and directing. We will surely see his name in the future on lists of the best independent films.
Review by Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark