Sunday, January 24, 2010

Love (meh): Crazy Heart

Jeff Bridges is collecting a windfall of awards for his performance in Crazy Heart. Last night he picked up the SAG, last week he scored a Golden Globe. There's little doubt, with this track record, that he's leading the Oscar race. The question is: should he be? I'm not so sure. Bridges plays Bad Blake, a down and out country singer who (while fictional) falls into an archetype film audiences should be quite familiar with. Bad's an alcoholic, wandering son of a gun. He's a man on the road, traveling in isolation 300 miles with a milk jug full of piss and counting the minutes between gulps of whiskey. In the pantheon of films about musicians and middle-aged men with addictive personalities that cloud the other aspects of their life, Crazy Heart is not especially unique. Here it is, Crazy Heart, an optimistic cross between The Wrestler and Walk the Line, a completely ordinary film that you have seen dozens of times before. My thought? If Mickey Rourke got shafted for the depth of emotional redemption in The Wrestler, Bridges doesn't deserve an Oscar.
There. I said it. Crazy Heart is a good enough movie and Jeff Bridges (as per usual) plays Bad Blake close to the belt. It's a good performance. A solid performance. Bridges makes you believe his hard luck more than you might be inclined to believe Joaquin Phoenix's Johnny Cash. Ultimately, though, the film wrongs the actor and denies him the opportunity to transform the character into something truly extraordinary. The film opens at the brink of a turn around in Blake's career. He used to be somebody, now, he's stuck playing small crowds at bowling alleys. See, he's been wronged. Much like Hedwig was shut down by protege Tommy Gnosis (yes, I did just compare Crazy Heart to Hedwig and the Angry Inch), Bad Blake sits bitter and ruined by being left in the dust by his own protege, Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell). Sweet's an arena country star with a half dozen tour buses. Blake's got a 1978 Suburban and a rotating back-up band. He plays a bar, he stays in a motel, he drives, he plays another bar. But wait, here's the expected twist: at this bar, he meets an aspiring music journalist (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who he takes a shine to. She's got a kid, she seems to get him, things are looking good. At the same time: Sweet miraculously gets caught up in a fog of nostalgia and regret and calls up Bad Blake to get him some exposure. With all the positive developments, you can probably guess where the only real sources of drama and tension come from, right? Glug glug.
The way I see it, Crazy Heart is like a well-done country song. It's got some heartache and a good story, but it's still an old, familiar tune and, well, I'm not a country girl. Jeff Bridges will win his first Oscar (after four nominations) not necessarily because this is the best performance of the year, but because it's his time. I hate to sound so cynical and negative about this, because in all reality it is an entertaining, nice film and (again) Bridges does do his usual good job. This year, though, I feel there are other performances that really went deeper than the expected. I looked at Bad Blake and I couldn't quite escape Jeff Bridges with some shades of a worn down Dude. There's just not enough energy or propulsion in the story to transform it into anything past 'good'. It'll meet your expectations. You'll like it well enough because it's got a little bit of silver lining and a charmer of a booze hound. Maybe I'm jaded. Maybe my graduate education forces me to look too much for the pieces of the story that leave an impact. Maybe I just didn't feel like this character ever hit a point low enough to make me feel the need for absolution. For whatever reason, I couldn't love Crazy Heart. I can only say it did everything right, I liked it well enough while I was watching it, but when I left, it was just sort of over. There was no afterglow. Just a feeling of 'meh'.

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