Friday, March 12, 2010

Not Crazy about Crazy Heart

With the Oscar buzz still echoing in our ears and the big winners enjoying renewed interest at the megaplex, I am truly at a loss as to how to write about how much I wanted to like Crazy Heart and how disappointed I was with Crazy Heart.

Let's start on a positive note: Jeff Bridges. The dude, as they say, abides. On the radar since the Coen brother's cult hit The Big Lebowski, Bridges deserved his best actor nod for his portrayal of Bad Blake, and continues a tradition of the academy rising above politics to recognize true dramatic brilliance by lauding artists such as Forest Whitaker, Helen Mirren, and Mickey Rourke, among others.

In fact, the casting of CH is entirely above reproach, which Colin Farrell fitting in the skin of a "new country" idol as if he had lived the part, and Maggie Gyllenhaal playing up her fleshy, sex-kitten, come hither look for all it is worth. This cast simply works together, giving flawless performances against a seamless backdrop that is a testament to the craft of legions of set designers, wardrobe experts, lighting crews, and sound men.

In fact, the whole film fits together as smoothly and elegantly as its cast, rendering it slick and shiny as a new dime that is worth about 2 cents.

The thing is that CH was a phony. It is a paper-thin, paint-by-numbers, stock Hollywood tale: man at rock bottom meets woman, woman inspires man, man makes mistake and breaks woman's heart, woman dumps man, man returns to rock bottom and finds new hope in: a) woman's forgiveness; or b) realization he can live a respectable life without her.

Wonderfully inspiring stuff!
I am really being a lot harder on CH than I should, considering that I was entertained by it. The thing is that there are some films that I go to with the mere expectation of entertainment - think Casino Royale or the Bourne series - rather than serious intellectual engagement. CH, on the other hand, sold itself as more than light entertainment: The Christian Science Monitor, along with virtually every other newspaper and website, gushes "Bridges draws us deeply inside Blake’s moment-to-moment heartbreaks. He makes us root for him as we would root for a dear friend. Ultimately, his triumphs become our own."

I saw the movie that the Monitor is talking about, and it is called The Wrestler. An edgy tale of redemption that takes risks, pushes boundaries, and takes us deep into the dark recesses of its protagonist's heart and soul. CH suffers in agony by the comparison, maintaining its slick patina by playing it safe all the way, never taking any risks. At one point Maggie Gyllenhaal's character asks Bad Blake if Colin Farrell's character is "real country" under his "new country" guise - maybe CH is real dramatic brilliance under its slick Hollywood guise, but I resent having to search for it.

To return to the critics by way of closing, it is impossible to miss the fact that few of the rave reviews really spend much time talking about the movie itself. In the end most seem to be reviewing Bridges' absolutely brilliant performance rather than the film: The New York Times proclaims CH "A small movie perfectly scaled to the big performance at its center."

I expected more than a one-man show...

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