This little essay on the film “Crazy Heart,” which I just saw this afternoon, cannot in all good faith be considered a “review,” I suppose, in that it is in no way comprehensive or even objective. It falls under the category of “What, again??”
First I should say that I did enjoy the film. Jeff Bridges was excellent in the role of the down-and-out country singer, and the talented Maggie Gyllenhaal can hardly miss, whatever role she plays. And I really like country music–good country music, not “that artificial stuff,” as Gyllenhaal calls it. I grew up listening to Hank Williams and first heard Johnny Cash back in the ’60′s in New Orleans. Bridges sings well, and the song writers do a more than decent job.
But the “What, again??” refers to the portrayal of male/female relationships. I found myself asking the following questions, as I viewed the film:
–Would a beautiful young thing like Maggie really fall goo-goo in love with a 53-year-old gross, unkempt, chain-smoking, pot-bellied alcoholic with a series of failed relationships (4 marriages and a son he has essentially deserted)? Even if he is a sincere, charming, talented country singer?
–Why does a man always need a female muse to allow him to create his art? (Read art history, and weep, women.) And by the way, when a female artist needs a muse, where does she go to get hers?
–When are we going to see a movie about a talented woman who is well past her youth, destitute, overweight, and a promiscuous alcoholic to boot, who attracts a young handsome man who saves her from her decline and inspires her to do her best work ever?
Now the film does get a few things right. “Bad,” Jeff Bridges’ character, is a true portrayal of an alcoholic. He is careless about his health. He doesn’t really understand the consequences of his behavior–in particular, the hurt and distrust he evokes in others. Nothing is more important than the next drink–not the woman, not her child, not his child, not his music. He is, however, charming and courtly–qualities which characterize many male alcoholics, in particular from the South.
And what else the film gets right is Bad’s losses–his quick and quite unbelievable recovery to sobriety is too little, too late. He is surprised that his woman turns him away. “Hey, I’m different now. Everything has changed.” She tells him she loves him, but she can never trust him again with her child. Never. Much can be forgiven, but nothing is forgotten. What is done, or not done, clouds our experience ever after. Bad walks away, bewildered.
When the movie ends, Bad (now calling himself by his true name, Otis) has left alcohol behind, has written terrific new songs, and has made a load of money. I wish I could believe it. Johnny Cash conquered his addictions with the help of June Carter and Jesus. Ray Carver was saved from alcoholism by the poet Tess Gallagher. I don’t believe Bad had the character to rid himself of his addiction–at least without a whole lot more support than he had–or that the film portrayed, in any case.
I think producers believed the film needed a (somewhat) happy ending, as almost all Hollywood films do. This was no Nicholas Cage “Leaving Las Vegas.” The theater was crowded–”Crazy Heart” is packing them in. Redemption just feels good, even when it’s unlikely.