The adventures of a 40-year-old, beer-drinking, porno-consuming wrestling fanatic with Down’s Syndrome. Exactly.
I thought I had hit the mother lode. Here it was, a documentary about a severely retarded man named Jeff, who lived with his 93-year-old mother, worked at a movie theater, loved wrestling, and enjoyed porn and drinking beer. It should be impossible to miss with such a combination, but, sadly, I was little more than disgusted throughout this film, although not for the reasons you might expect. No need to worry; I haven’t gotten all sentimental and no, I am not now opposed to exploiting the weak and the dumb. Nor am I bored with the crazy things retards inevitably do when rational people are watching. My primary objection, therefore, has to do with the idea that Jeff — like all submental sorts — is somehow on equal footing with the rest of us, if not superior. Jefftowne, because of its ultra low-budget look and rambling presentation, is obviously a freak show, but I get the idea that the people involved with the film, especially many of Jeff’s “friends” and co-workers, have so fled from reality (they live in Des Moines, Iowa after all) that they cannot accept that Jeff has the intelligence of a rock and despite all efforts on his behalf, he will never rise above his afflicted state.
Still, there is plenty to enjoy, if by enjoy one means mock an obviously inferior specimen and thank the stars that despite it all, at least we are not him. In the span of an hour, we get to watch Jeff attack William Shatner at a Star Trek convention, walk around with a picture of Fonzie in his front pocket, go to the dentist to have a rotten tooth removed (and hear about how one time, when Jeff became frightened, the denist had to perform the surgery in the waiting room), flirt with women at a movie theater, and scratch his blackened, infected foot. Jeff hangs around with a weirdo named Kristi, who by all appearances is sane, but remains quite serious when she “talks” with Jeff about his desire to have her baby. We also watch Jeff mumble (and drink) while wearing a t-shirt that says, “It’s not a beer belly, it’s a full tank for a sex machine.” Such words resonate when he hear about a local woman (never seen, interestingly enough) who allegedly licked Jeff’s balls. We see pictures of Jeff and big-titted porn stars, Jeff’s massive porn collection (apparently he has a magazine called “Jungle”), and Jeff at an NWO wrestling event. We also get to hear from his boss about Jeff’s average day — he watches ten hours of TV, gets up at 2:00 in the afternoon, makes phone calls to co-workers at all hours of the night, and schedules The Three Stooges on his calendar. [Ed Note; In all fairness, this film sounds like a documentary about Jonny] Of course, we learn nothing about Jeff from Jeff himself, as his speech is nearer to a vomiting hyena than any human being I’ve encountered, and his vocabulary is limited to no more than a dozen words (including “girls,” “beer,” and “kick ass”).
But as I said, too many people in this film try to make Jeff sound normal, almost as if his only issue is an inability to bathe once in awhile. Perhaps his retardation is largely unnoticed in a backwater sewage plant like Des Moines, but I get the feeling that our preoccupation with “feelings” has come to the point where we honestly believe that massive brain damage is simply not a barrier to living a fulfilling, all-American life. One guy even says the following: “My theory on Jeff Towne is that he’s actually a genius who can be a normal human except he doesn’t want to be.” This comment is meant in all seriousness, which must mean that retardation is simply a lifestyle choice, like cross-dressing or reading The New Yorker. I guess we are to believe that Jeff is “acting” so that his nauseating groping, yelling fits, and incidents of shitting his pants (which he did at work) will be attributed to his “illness” and he will avoid the consequences of his actions. If only I had thought of such a brilliant tactic to avoid punishment. Remember, this is a man who agrees that he is an atheist and within two seconds also says that God looks like Moe from The Three Stooges.
And then we get to the part where Jeff makes his own movie, a classic short entitled “Up Night Mall Kim.” All the footage we see is out of focus and there is little but static shots of his house, assorted friends, and the television. In a way, it’s not bad for a half-wit, although I imagine Jeff was not present for the heavy editing of what no doubt was at least thirty hours of a blank wall or Jeff enaged in household chores like smelling his own feces. And while I did roar with a child-like delight at the life of one Jeff Towne, I could not get past people like Kristi, the woman who conversed with Jeff about his dreams of fatherhood. This woman is arguably more disturbed than Jeff as she seems to have nothing else to do with her time than hang around a possessive, annoying, slobbering retard who is at least fifteen years her senior. What is her game? Is he a research project for a college class? Penance for a childhood of reckless sin? Community service? We never discover her angle and if, as I suspect, she hangs around poor Jeff because she wants to feel good about herself for befriending a dolt, then she is far worse than the people who openly tease and humiliate him. Given the choice between an insensitive, mean-spirited asshole and a self-righteous do-gooder who can’t make distinctions, I’ll take the prick every time. But who am I kidding? I am that prick.
So no, my dear filmmakers, Jeff is not brilliant, nor is he a lesson for the rest of us. He is merely a poor fool who was born with a curse that renders his life indistinguishable from a houseplant. By all means feed and water the guy (even I would not advocate labor camps), but do not delude yourself that he can ever be self-sufficient, productive, or an active conversationalist. We may think Jeff is just like us because he loves big tits and cold beer, but he is merely an animal without limits, therefore he can indulge in a 24-hour-a-day idiocy that most of us reserve for the weekends. After our hangovers and tearful apologies to the spouse, we can move on, with books, film, nature, our jobs, or self-reflection. Clods like Jeff are doomed to an endless loop of the same moment in time — round and round without escape, growth, or evolution. Just like Iowa.
There are several short films, including Jefftowne 2 (which shows Jeff four years later — needless to say absofuckinglutely nothing in his life has changed) and Jeff Explains the Classics, which has Jeff grunting about Star Trek II and the Star Wars Trilogy. Needless to say, he could have been talking about The Rules of the Game or Showgirls as I didn’t understand a fucking word. There are also several deleted scenes that accomplish nothing save for prolonging the torture.
March 14, 2006 by