“You can’t always get what want,” goes the Rolling Stones’ classic. “But sometimes you get what you need.” And in Sympathy for Delicious, just released by Maya Entertainment on Blu-ray (and DVD), what wheelchair-bound Dean O’Dwyer, also known as DJ Delicious D (Christopher Thornton, who also wrote the screenplay) wants is to be healed.
Living in his car in an impoverished section of Los Angeles after an unspecified accident or illness leaves him unable to walk, Delicious is angry and desperate. Once a successful turntablist, he can no longer scratch the discs (the tables are too high); his attitude turns off even a band of punk musicians with whom he wants to gig.
Relying on a homeless mission for his meals, his only companion seems to be the mission’s ambitious priest Father Joe (Mark Ruffalo, who also directed the film). A man of little faith, cynical and bitter, D is desperate enough to attend a faith healer’s show. But D is not chosen for healing that night—or at any time.
Inexplicably, one day Delicious discovers quite accidentally that he himself has been given the miraculous power of healing by touch. It is is a gift he neither wants nor needs. To him it is a curse, especially since while it seems to work on others, his touch is impotent on his own useless legs.
Father Joe feels blessed to have come across this amazing gift on his own turf, and sees the great good it can do for the downtrodden of his parish. But he also sees the good it will do in building for them a beautiful state of the art homeless shelter and realizes that in D, he has the ticket to raise enough funds to build it.
Putting the reluctant healer up in a sleazy motel so he no longer has to sleep in his car, Father Joe trots out his prize find daily to heal the cripples and fix the broken human beings who dwell on Los Angeles’ Skid Row. Delicious reluctantly goes along, now having accomodations and a small stipend. But all D really wants to do is to “scratch” discs with a punk band and work his way back up to musical success. And it looks like he may have his chance after meeting bassist Ariel (Juliette Lewis, Due Date).
But the band’s star Stain (Orlando Bloom, Lord of the Rings) doesn’t really like Delicious or his volatility—until he sees a demonstration of his gift, and realizes its monetary value. Signed by the band’s manager (Laura Linney, John Adams, The Big C), D is trotted out at sold out gigs to heal the masses. It’s a “healapalooza,” until one night, it all goes terribly wrong on stage.
For a film about faith and healing, Sympathy for Delicious is far from a feel-good inspirational movie where everything all turns out great and we whip out the hankies and dab our eyes. This film is edgy and dark, with a hero who really isn’t a hero—and never heals himself (although there are faint glimmers). No one is a saint in this film—not priest nor healer. And that is a good thing. As for Delicious D, he may never quite get the healing he wants, but perhaps he gets a dose of the sort of healing he truly needs.
In the end, Sympathy fails to generate much for its anti-hero, an unlikable and selfish ass who never really softens until the last moments of the film. But despite that, I liked the film, especially for the strange friendship (almost love-hate relationship) between Father Joe and Delicious.
The acting in Sympathy is uniformly excellent. Lewis does her drugged out space-cadet musician thing to a tee (I first saw it on display in 1999’s Strange Days), and Bloom’s preening prima dona punk star Stain a far, far cry from Legolas.
The film is based on Thornton’s real-life experiences as a paraplegic. When Thornton was an acting student (as well as Ruffalo’s classmate and roomie) at Stella Adler’s famed acting school in New York, he’d had a terrible accident and lost the use of his legs. Confined to a wheelchair, Thornton, too dabbled in the world of faith healing. Awarded a Special Jury Prize for Directing at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, Sympathy for Delicious is a darkly comic trip into a slightly surreal world of faith healing through the prism of poverty and punk music.
The Blu-ray release features 1080p video with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (the original was 2.39:1). However, the nature of the film and its “indie” feel do not really benefit from the Blu-ray technology. The darker scenes tend to lose detail, consumed by muddy blacks; however the bright daylight, and later prison scenes are bright and crisp with adequate depth and excellent color.
The 5.1 audio track is center focused, as might be expected for a drama. Musical performance scenes and other crowd scenes do make use of surround sound, giving audio perspective to those scenes. I found the musical soundtrack to be slightly unbalanced with the rest of the film. The dialogue-heavy scenes required a volume adjustment up, but then the music scenes blasted my ears. On the other hand, what punk concert have you ever attended that didn’t have eardrum-bursting decibel levels?
The Blu-ray includes a featurette on the making of the Sympathy for Delicious with comments on making Sympathy for Delicious from those involved with the film—and on Thornton’s own journey. Also included is a commentary track with Ruffalo, Thornton and Bloom.