Sunday, March 4, 2018

Falling for Flying

Film: Crazy Heart
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.

So it’s Oscar night and while I watch and live-tweet the awards (something I’ve literally never done before), I’m writing up Crazy Heart during the commercials. For a blog like this one that focuses on a few Oscar categories, tonight is akin to Super Bowl Sunday. I’m hoping that I’ll finish this before the end of the ceremony. Since I don’t care a great deal about the musical numbers, I might write through those as well.

Crazy Heart feels like a movie I’ve seen before, and when Robert Duvall shows up near the end of the film, I realized it was because Crazy Heart is a hell of a lot like Tender Mercies. In Tender Mercies, Duvall plays an aging, alcoholic country music performer on the outs desperately looking for love and meaning. In Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges plays an aging, alcoholic country music performer on the outs desperately looking for love and meaning.

Otis “Bad” Blake (Bridges) is currently on what passes for a tour for him. His once huge career as a country performer has slipped away from him. Now, he is “touring” the American southwest, driving by himself from place to place in an ancient truck. He’s playing small bars and bowling alleys backed up by local bands drafted into service for the night. His reputation has preceded him; his manager has alerted all of his venues to force him to pay cash for his alcohol.

At one of his stops, Bad is asked if he will do a favor his accompanying pianist. The pianist’s niece is a music journalist and would like an interview. While Bad is a bit of a bastard, he’s not a complete bastard, and he’s desperate enough for money that he needs whatever press he can get. The journalist turns out to be Jean Craddock, who looks a hell of a lot like Maggie Gyllenhaal. And, because this is a movie, romance eventually blooms between the two of them despite their vast differences, including the fact that she is evidently about half his age. Perhaps they bond over their previous failed marriages. Bad has been married at least four times, possibly five. Jean has been married as well and has a four-year-old son named Buddy (Jack Nation).

So of course there are going to be problems. Specifically, there are going to be a couple of problems that will drive the plot. One is that Bad is an alcoholic, and this is going to interfere in real ways with his relationship with Jean and with Buddy. The second is his relationship with Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), a country star (no, really—played by Colin Farrell) who started his career as one of Bad’s protégés. Tommy has become wildly successful while Bad’s career has faltered, and while he resents the guy whose career he started, Bad willingly suffers indignities at his hands because he is desperate for the money.

I’ll hand it to Crazy Heart in that it manages to go to a few new places in its third act. But it ends far too much in the way we’re supposed to want it to. We get about 90% of what we’d have gotten had a film like this been made 60 years ago. That’s a little disappointing. It ends much too sweetly. A far larger problem is the fact that Crazy Heart again dives into that world where for some reason we need to have a romance between a physical derelict of a man approaching 60 with a woman half his age. Yes, I’m going to go on a rant here.

Why is this still a thing? We find out in the film that Bad has a son he’s never met, and that son is roughly the same age as Jean, with whom he becomes romantically involved. I don’t understand why this is a thing. I don’t know why it was ever a thing, especially when the only time this has been done in reverse, it’s been done as comedy, like in Harold and Maude. I don’t know why this is a thing. It makes no sense to me why this is actually a thing in movies so often.

The best part of the film is the music, which is quite good. It’s impressive that both Bridges and Colin Farrell do their own singing. I’ve never been a huge Colin Farrell fan, but he’s decent here, or at least he doesn’t make me want to punch myself in the face. I also like that T Bone Burnett worked on the film as a producer and songwriter.

Look, Crazy Heart features some nice performances, particularly by Jeff Bridges. But the romance angle loses me completely. Replace Maggie Gyllenhaal with someone more age appropriate and make Buddy her grandson, and all of the plot points still work without the creepy romance thing happening.

Can we make that a thing?

Why to watch Crazy Heart: Holy shit, but the music is good!
Why not to watch: Why do we need another romance between a famous man and a woman thirty years his junior?


  1. Never having been a fan of country music, I've steered way clear of this film. Would you say the story is good enough for me to hold my nose and plunge into the film, anyway?

    1. Honestly? Probably not. It's old-school country music, though. It's the sort that you wouldn't be embarrassed to be caught listening to, not the "my wife left men and hit my dog with my truck, but at least I'm free" stuff that passes for country today.

    2. I'm actually OK with the likes of Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers, and Johnny Cash. Old-school might work for me. I'm just not into that twangy, nasal Garth Brooks shit. And that's a negatory on Shania, too, while I'm at it.

      As for creepy May-September romances: I can see an obvious Freudian reason for showing that the old guy still retains his potency (this is, after all, how Clint Eastwood's life has gone: until not long ago, he'd been married to a woman 35 years younger than he is), but that's about it. Perhaps there are women in the world who're just really into leathery old men...? (Leather chasers?)

    3. The music sounds more like modern country in some respects because, well, it's a more modern movie. You're not going to get Walk the Line songs here. But the come across as a lot more honest, at least in terms of Jeff Bridges's work.

      As for the old man/young woman thing...maybe? It's at least as good or better a rationale than I've ever come up with. I seriously can't think of a film where the relationship is in the other direction that isn't played for comedy. I'm sure they're out there, but I can't think of one.

  2. I didn't hate this movie but I didn't love it either. It was just sort of there. It had a feeling of sameness and a resolution that you could see more or less from the beginning. The friend I saw it with and I had a discussion when it was over about that romance and how preposterous it was that this seemingly intelligent woman who had already had a bad relationship for some reason would be attracted to this wreck of a person who might as well have "TROUBLE" tattooed on his forehead.

    I'm a big Jeff Bridges fan (not so much Maggie Gyllenhaal) and he was decent but he won the Oscar for this? He's been better in better roles elsewhere. I thought the best performance in the whole film came from Colin Farrell, not award level but since they were handing out nominations indiscriminately (Gyllenhaal-why? Her role was a nothing) I'm surprised he was bypassed.

    1. I rather like Maggie Gyllenhaal, although not to some weird or obsessive degree. I find her a pleasant addition to a lot of films in part because she's not that staggeringly gorgeous Hollywood stereotype. She's pleasantly attractive without being painful. She looks normal, and I like that about her.

      But yeah, everything else. I'd have loved to have seen Bridges win for his work in something like Hell or High Water. And it is mildly painful for me to admit that I didn't hate Colin Farrell in this, since I often find him to be the weak point of anything.

      As for the relationship, it will remain my biggest problem with this film. I realize that we'll probably never get rid of the "old dude/young woman" trope, but can we get something at least mildly closer in age? Turn the kid into a grandkid and give us, maybe, Holly Hunter? Frances McDormand? They're at least within a decade of Bridges.