A Moment of Grace: My Name Is Jerry and the Difficulty of Change

Culture, Film, Media — By on October 4, 2010 at 12:00 am

We’ve all seen that film: the middle-aged protagonist, bored with his bourgeois existence, is suddenly captivated by a younger woman who holds the key to the exciting life he wants. After two hours of confusion, emotion, and the casting aside of inhibitions, our protagonist emerges a changed man, willing to discard anything that holds back his own adventure.

My Name Is Jerry is not that film.

The opening scenes may lull the audience into a sense of security, believing that they know what lies ahead. But instead of a story of personal fulfillment at all costs, they will find a story about the pain we cause each other, the importance of commitment, and the necessity of forgiveness.

Jerry, played by the multi-talented Doug Jones (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth), is a salesman; divorced, he hasn’t spoken to his daughter in years. His schedule is mind-numbingly predictable -until his world changes. His ex-wife passes away, he gets a chance at a new job, and through a series of coincidences, he finds himself drawn into a crowd of twenty-somethings, exploring their music and trying to change himself into a new man. Captivated by Jordan, a lovely young bartender at a club, Jerry moves further and further away from his old life, brushing off his friend’s advice not to get involved with a younger woman. These scenes have a distinct charm, stemming mostly from the characters themselves, but they are also shot through with awkwardness, the growing pains that make every rebirth so messy.

I won’t give away the ending of the film; see it for yourself. Suffice to say that over the course of the movie, Jerry is forced to come face-to-face with his many failures and confront the person he has hurt the most: the daughter he abandoned at his former wife’s request. He seems to miss the point of the whole thing, headed for perhaps his most catastrophic failure of all, until the final moments of the story. The film is reminiscent of a Flannery O’Connor story (though much more light-hearted), with a moment of grace extended to someone who is determined not to notice it until it is almost (but not quite!) too late.

This film admirably walks the fine line between two worn-out clichés: the story of the man who learns to love himself and throws everything away pursuing a selfish dream, and the story of the man who learns to love someone else, conveniently solving the problems of all involved. Jerry is a lovable fellow, but there is no glossing over his mistakes. He is sometimes uncomfortable to watch, because he is all too familiar-we know Jerrys, or have been Jerry ourselves. We dutifully shy away from those who tell us to ‘let it all go,’ but we long for something more, something better, and a chance to make things right.

A quote from the film sums it up rather nicely. “Truth is, you know if you’re in need of a change.” Who doesn’t feel that need? The question is what we change into-will we be butterflies or just worms? The doctrine that self-fulfillment is all we need is sure to keep us earthbound, content that we are already at our best, when in fact we are still mired in the muck. With forgiveness, grace, and a willingness to admit our wrongs, we just might have the chance to fly.