FACTOTUM: It takes hard work to be poor in America

“All I wanna do is get my check and get drunk,” Hank — the alter ego of Skid Row poet laureate Charles Bukowski — tells one of the many employers who fire him in FACTOTUM, airing tonight at 8P and 9:45P. “Now, that might not sound healthy to you, but it’s my choice.”

On the surface, Hank Chinaski’s philosophy may seem simple, but he lives by his own twisted code of ethics. As embodied by Matt Dillon in Norwegian cowriter-director Bent Hamer’s deliciously deadpan adaptation of Bukowski’s work, Hank is anything but a layabout. He collects unemployment between his short-term gigs, and he’s no doubt one of the non-taxpaying 47 percenters demonized by Mitt Romney, but he doesn’t consider himself a victim. With its darkly skewed sense of humor, FACTOTUM clearly depicts how much hard work it takes to be poor in America.

Hank gets jobs at a pickle factory (because it reminds him of his grandmother, who used to serve him pickles) and a bike supply warehouse (“I had to demean myself to get that one — I told them I like to think of my job as a second home”), among other places. But they’re all just a means to an end of pursuing his true passions: wine, women and writing — not necessarily in that order.

For moviegoers who’ve seen Mickey Rourke’s portrayal of Hank Chinaski in 1987′s BARFLY — or the man himself in the 2003 documentary BUKOWSKI: BORN INTO THIS — he may seem a familiar figure. But Dillon puts his own low-key spin on him. Dillon is no longer the pretty boy of DRUGSTORE COWBOY, yet Hank might be the same character 25 years and countless bottles of booze later.

Between the menial day jobs, the poetry/short stories/half-finished novel and the carousing, Hank’s proverbial plate is full, even if his refrigerator is empty. “A woman is like a full-time job,” his ne’er-do-well pal Manny (Fisher Stevens) tells him. “They wanna get fucked night and day.” Maybe that’s why Hank later notes, “I fucked better as a bum than as a puncher of time-clocks.”

He drifts between women — barflies, if you will — played by Lili Taylor (whose marvelously lived-in performance won her Best Actress at the Copenhagen International Film Festival) and Marisa Tomei, shacking up for short times to save money on rent. When his woman leaves him and his landlord kicks him out, he can’t find a job because he doesn’t have a fixed address. But how do you afford a place to live without a paycheck? Such is the Catch-22 of America’s underclass.

Hank is far from a perfect role model. He’s abusive to women and addicted to alcohol. Then again, he figures, “When you don’t have a job, that’s when you need a drink the most.” With his lengthy criminal record for drunk-and-disorderlies and DUIs, he might have benefited from the services of Strive, the organization that offers help to ex-cons, as seen on the Sundance Channel original series GET TO WORK. But his life experiences have given him a hard-won wisdom: “It pays to be a tough son-of-a bitch,” he concludes. “The world belongs to people with balls.”

And if he’s going to be a drunk womanizer and an achingly sensitive writer, dammit, he’ll be the best he can be at both: “If you’re going to try, go all the way.” FACTOTUM goes all the way… and then some.

Watch FACTOTUM tonight at 8P and again at 9:45 on Sundance Channel!

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