Before he passed away at the age of 46, Philip Seymour Hoffman starred in 52 feature films. Starring roles, character pieces, chameleon work—he left a legacy nearly unmatched in both quality and quantity. Now, with P.S.H. I Love You, Jonah Koslofsky wafts through the cornucopia of the man’s offerings.
This might sound harsh, but God’s Pocket is a movie that has no business existing. There’s a void where its central relationship should be: set in working-class Philadelphia sometime in the mid-twentieth century, Mickey (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Jeanie (Christina Hendricks), are an inexplicably estranged married couple. She completely hates him, though “why?” – a pretty obvious question – is never explored.
The unhappy couple live with Jeanie’s son Leon (Caleb Landry Jones), though co-writer/director John Slattery completely fails to establish their relationship (I initially thought Leon and Jeanie were siblings). Leon is an enormous piece of shit. He works at a factory, where he goes on racist rants until his only black co-worker bashes his head in with a pipe. Everyone at the factory hates Leon so much that they agree to tell the police his death was caused by a machine malfunction.
Jeanie is heartbroken and suspicious, but she’s so underwritten that it never matters. Mickey steals meat trucks and bets on horseraces with his friend Bird (John Turturro). We hear from an alcoholic local newspaper writer (Richard Jenkins), who eventually seduces Jeanie. Mickey’s too broke to pay for Leon’s funeral. There’s nothing driving God’s Pocket forward, nothing connecting these disparate scenes and characters. No one ever learns why Leon dies, and there’s no perspective or seeming significance to that lack of closure.
Premiering at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival just days before its star’s passing, Philip Seymour Hoffman does his best to add depth to his blue-collar butcher, but everything around him is so vague that the performance never coheres. He just scowls a lot. You could say he makes Mickey – a hard-drinking, generally repressed criminal – sympathetic, but it’s more that the movie never gives you any strong reasons to like or dislike him. Hoffman knew how to slyly let the audience into his imploding characters, but the person he’s playing here has no psyche or compelling motivations beneath his gruff surface. Who is this guy? Why should we care about him? Neither filmmaker nor actor has an answer.
Produced during his Mad Men heyday, Slattery hasn’t directed a film since. We’re not missing out. His images are drab and brown. His tone is inconsistent. I have no idea what he was trying to say or accomplish with God’s Pocket, or if he was attempting to provoke any feeling in his viewer besides boredom.