Sunday, February 7, 2010

Lights... Camera... Action!!

Sometimes I’m too busy (or too idle) to write down movie thoughts, but that’s rarely because the film I’ve seen hasn’t moved me in some way… And here are a few that have provoked some kind of reaction recently.

Crazy Heart is Jeff Bridges’ latest film, for which he’s been nominated for an Oscar. The pundits suggest that this time (his fourth nomination), he might win it. I wondered if we might be looking at a 21st-century version of A Star is Born, Kris Kristofferson’s epic film with Barbara Streisand, which I saw when it was released in 1976 and I was much more clueless… Still, what I remember is that when Kristofferson’s character fell in that film, he kept right on falling.

Jeff Bridges hasn’t just revisited Kristofferson’s earlier film, though. Neither did the filmmakers stay with the ending that author Thomas Cobb gave his 20-something-year-old book, but that’s ok, too. What worked in this film? Well, Bridges did. He’s a fine actor, and believable in the part of country music performer Bad Blake, a man who used to be on top of the world, we’re told, but is now skidding unstoppably downhill. He’s likeable, even when you wonder if he’s going to fall flat on his face (figuratively speaking, primarily, though the literal sense would also apply).

The way the character is drawn, we know that he must be lonely – he’s on the road a lot, and not with a tour bus and an accompanying band, but on his own. When he gets to a venue, he meets the pick-up band who will be playing with him. While on the one hand, we know that this is his job, and he just goes on the way we all do some times, plodding forward because even when you don’t feel like it, there are still jobs to be done, on the other hand, it’s clear that he still loves the music. It’s not the adulation of fans (although that does give him the ‘benefit’ of the occasional one-night stand), but rather, the baring of his soul that’s important. It seems that through much of his life, through his 4 marriages, and his non-existent relationship with his now-adult son, he hasn’t been able to say what he needed to say. Through his music, he can.

Maggie Gyllenhall plays the much-younger reporter who, of course, becomes the love interest in the story. I went into this with a bit of eye-rolling, wondering why on earth it is that we keep seeing films in which the much older lead male attracts the eye of the much younger lead female. “Give me a break,” I thought. This isn’t like that, though. Yes, Gyllenhall’s Jean is much younger; yes, she’s a little damaged in her own right; yes, she’s vulnerable and a bit fragile. But don’t kid yourself. She’s also mighty strong.

Is it her crazy heart, or Bad Blake’s, that gives us the title? Who knows? They both have hearts in which their capacity for love is great and yet somehow unrealized. Gyllenhall turns in a performance in which she truly is luminous - I generally hate that description of an actress, because it’s generally undeserved. Here, though, it’s a fact. We watch her falling in love with the Bridges character, all the while understanding that we’re sharing a wry joke with her – “Can you believe I’m letting this happen?” She says exponentially more with her eyes than many actresses can say with everything they’ve got.

Colin Farrell also does a turn here, as country music superstar Tommy Sweet, and while he’s not bad, his performance is minor. He doesn’t have much screen time, and he downplays his presence. But this film belongs, by turns, to Bridges and Gyllenhall. Everyone else is window dressing. It’s an excellent film, and well worth the admission and the time. Go see it.

Next up, A Single Man, Colin Firth’s latest, and it’s a stunner. Firth plays George Falconer, a university professor in the United States of the 1960s, a man that society used to call a “confirmed bachelor,” when people really meant that the person of whom they spoke was gay.

It’s not a spoiler to say that Firth’s long-time partner, Jim, dies – quite early in the film, in fact. Jim's death isn't what the story is about, but rather George's life. The death is unquestionably a tragedy of unspoken proportions – Falconer receives a telephone from Jim’s cousin who explained apologetically that ‘the family didn’t want me to call, but I thought it was right.’ So – wait… what? The couple had been together for 17 years, and the family didn’t want him notified of Jim’s death?! Well, yes, because that’s the way it was.

Falconer thanks the cousin and says that he should get off the phone to arrange a plane ticket for the funeral. More apologies from the cousin – a ticket won’t be necessary, because the funeral is ‘just for family.’ Just for family. What casual cruelty to someone who’s just experienced the most profound loss of his life.

Julianne Moore, who may well have been called luminous in this role (I’d disagree – she seems miscast to me as another British expatriate living in the US), plays Falconer’s friend Charley. The pair had what we might call a hookup a number of years earlier, and it’s possible that she still carries a torch for him. I haven’t much to say about her role, or even her character, because honestly, her performance grated here. And I really do like Julianne Moore! Just not in this film.

Back to the film – the filmmakers decided to move back and forth, to show us how George met Jim, how they came to stay together. They build for us the image of this peaceful, uncomplicated, mutually fulfilling life that somehow blossomed in a world which was hostile to it and afraid of it. (Hm… it strikes me that not much has changed for same-sex couples in the last 40 years.)

I won’t spill the ending here; suffice it to say that it was most unexpected. This movie brought me to tears, a couple of times, and I recommend it very highly to anybody. A Single Man is, as my daughter would say, a keeper. As soon as it’s available on DVD, I’ll purchase it and watch it again (tissues at hand).

And if I were the Oscar jury, I’d give the award to Colin Firth, with thanks.

Stay tuned for Part II…

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