The one thing movies about drunks forget is the hope. Most flicks
make it look like it's all miserable: your life comes down like
pants from a 99-cent store; everyone who loves you takes a bullet
train out of town; and your kidney fades faster than a Ray-o-Vac
battery. According to the movies, there is no upside to enjoying
a few pints of whiskey every day, and nothing romantic when
you turn your back on a pay-you-back last call. Take it from
me, that's not how getting loaded is. Sure, there are mornings
you wake up in the dumpster behind the Country Buffet, and nights
when someone you can't remember scribbled an epithet on your
forehead with a Sharpie and you don't erase it for a few days
because you want to know what it says but can't read it backward
in the mirror. Then there's the throwing up, the hangovers and
being able to stick a finger into your gut so deep it pushes
clear through the gelatinous mass that once was your liver.
gives you hope, it gives you dreams and it gives you courage.
Even a quart of rubbing alcohol and a packet of Hi-C powder
makes for a much better evening than sitting alone thinking
about how you said you were going to paint over the mold on
the walls eight years ago but still haven't gotten around to
it. It's better than noticing that the broken spring in the
Goodwill sofa has punched through the comforter you tossed on
after it tore the upholstery. I can't tell you all the magical
places alcohol has taken me, only partially because I can't
remember some of them. I believe it's better to have an adventure
and not remember it than to stay home and wish for one.
Alcohol, as maligned
as it is, has always had an important role in our society: to
make the intolerable seem all right, and the future look brighter
than it really is. It is for many of us, the best reason to
get up in the morning and the last thing we talk to--or sing
to or claim is the only thing that understands us--before we
go to bed. In the long term it may fuck up your life. But a
lot of the time the right-now is all that's important. As a
song in Crazy Heart goes: "Sometimes falling feels like
flying, for a little while."
is a bad-man-redeemed-by-a-good-woman movie. There is little
surprising or original about its story. It owes a shitload to
the similar early-80s flick Tender Mercies. It even employs
Tender Mercies' star Robert Duvall in a cameo and as
a producer. Crazy Heart is done exceptionally well, though,
and it understands that drunks are functional, drink for a reason
and aren't demons. It's a God damn good movie.
Jeff Bridges is Bad
Blake, an old-school country-western singer down on his luck,
like if Johnny Paycheck were still on the road. He's a hard
drinker/lover/iconoclast who's seen his career go from big stages
to the back of bowling alleys and storefront bars in the Southwest.
He tours the wide-open West, among the plateaus and red rocks,
in a beat-up Suburban, drinking pricey whiskey as though the
quality of the booze defines the dignity of the alcoholic. He
drinks a lot of it: a quart before Showtime and another after.
Puking is as regular as a German clock, as is drifting off in
a lousy motel somewhere with a smoke dangling from his fingers.
While Bridge's career
falls, a kid who once backed him up rises. That kid, played
by Colin Farrell, is one of those newfangled country singers
with a ponytail, four tour buses and no real-life experience
on which to base his songs about heartbreak and loss. At the
start of the movie, Bridges is expecting a favor from Farrell
to save him from the poorhouse and having to switch his hooch
loyalty to low-grade booze like Canada House or Black Velvet.
Bridges is on the
tail end of middle age when he falls in love with a much younger
journalist (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who has a four-year-old son and
a penchant for liking the wrong sort of man. Of course, it's
her love that inspires him to be a better person, to give up
the bottle and stop loathing himself. As happens in these movies,
just when shit looks good, he shows his irresponsibility and
selfishness to Gyllenhaal. She dumps his drunken ass, and his
love for her forces him to finally face his failing health and
the limited options he has if he keeps falling asleep with an
empty bottle of whiskey. Before her he'd have been happy hard-living
himself into the grave.
has some shortcomings. All of them are small compared to what
it does well. The main one is that I don't understand why Gyllenhaal
lets Bridges into her life. She says she's lousy at picking
men, but why a washed-up drunkard, broke musician? The movie
could have given an answer I'd buy, but it doesn't. The ease
with which a smart person lets such a bum into her life is unheard
of outside of my own marriage. A lot of the secondary characters
aren't consistent, or even necessary. Farrell's Tommy Sweet
is needed, but about as predictable as can be. Bridges' bar-owning
pal is an odd choice to guide him to sobriety. The terrifying
event that causes Gyllenhaal to reconsider her feelings is too
convenient and not entirely convincing. It's the type of event
that can only end one way, because moviemakers usually don't
have the balls to do it any other. Finally, Bridges' rehabilitation
is awfully hurried at the end of the film. It's void of any
uncertainty or the true difficulty of giving up the bottle.
His recovery ties the story together nicely, but it's facile
how little time is given to it.
The rest of Crazy
Heart is pretty fucking terrific. Bridges' performance is
flat-out amazing. I went in thinking, how damn hard is it to
act like a drunken singer? A role like that is the Oscar-bait
actors love, where they can act sad and lost, maybe even cry
a bit. Yet, Bridges does it so damn graceful and elegant. He
embodies and fills his character, making him human in a beautifully
natural way. His Bad Blake is worn in and broken down, egoless
and bristly. He wears those weird gray polyester jeans that
pan-assed cowboys wear with their nudie shirts. He has a slow
gait and big gut. He wears aviator glasses he occasionally has
to retrieve from the trash after puking. He knows his life is
falling apart, yet there's something hopeful about him. He likes
drinking, because drinking is the best way to make him enjoy
his otherwise crummy life. He also likes performing and watching
telenovelas (most likely for the same reason as me - all the
hot-looking girls). Ultimately, he's pragmatic and hopeful.
And rather than rely on a handout, he rediscovers that experience
counts for something.
I'm no expert on
country-western music outside of knowing I hate the shit on
the radio today. The music in Crazy Heart feels like
it came from the 70s, when there was crossover between cowboys
and rock, not only in the music but the lifestyles. Waylon,
Johnny and Merle all had their drinking, drugs and hotel-smashing
problems. Bad Blake's old hits sound like real relics that era.
The movie takes place
in wide-open spaces. I'm a sucker for huge vistas of Southwestern
mesas and tumbling tumbleweeds. There's a lonely phone booth
in the middle of nowhere that sort of look like it ought to
be there. Bridges sleeps in a string of motels that were probably
grand before interstates and air travel. The rooms have bucking
bronco paintings on the walls and heavy Mission-style furniture
that was probably grand in its day. I could almost smell the
old varnish, puke, sweat and cigarettes lit off the end of the
The setting and music
add authenticity that supports what I think is Crazy Heart's
best virtue: it's small. This is a story about one guy, it's
not conflating that into some bigger parable about society or
war. Writer/Director Scott Cooper spends his time telling the
audience about Bad Blake and his small-and-getting-smaller world.
Cooper does it with compassion and respect for the characters.
Cooper, Bridges and Gyllenhaal treat the characters were real
is a pretty fucking good movie. It has its little problems,
sure, but it also has a shitload of hope and a sincerity that
exposes the difference between telling a story you love and
just cranking out some shit you expect someone else to love
for you. Plus, all the drinking onscreen made me kind of thirsty.
to tell Filthy Something?