A Touchdown for Screwball Comedy
Leatherheads takes us back to the 1920s, a time before pro football achieved widespread popularity. Focusing on how football changed from a no-holds-barred sport to one with strict regulations and rules, this clever screwball comedy is a nostalgic treat. Sets, costumes, dialogue, music and attitude blend together here to provide a highly entertaining journey into the past. Co-stars George Clooney, Renee Zellweger and John Krasinski add to the fun with performances befitting this genre. Even though a love triangle forms the heart of Leatherheads, the film actually spoofs romantic comedies, emphasizing silliness over sentimentality. I found it a joy to watch -- and a welcome relief from the crudeness of so many recent comedies.
Clooney portrays Dodge Connelly, an over-the-hill pro football player who loves the rough-and-ready game. So what if there’s not enough money for more than one football? Who cares if only a few people show up for the games? Football is the one thing Dodge and his rag-tag team mates care about. But when support funds for the team dry up, Dodge realizes he needs a daring plan. Enter Carter “The Bullet” Rutherford (Krasinski), a college football star and war hero who’s drawing crowds wherever he goes. After Carter agrees to play for Dodge’s team, his thousands of fans turn out and save the day for Dodge.
Unfortunately, complications develop when Lexie Littleton (Zellweger), a crack reporter, receives an assignment to take down Carter. Of course, both Dodge and Carter fall for Lexie. Will she use her feminine wiles to get the real story from Carter? How will she handle her attraction to the handsome young man as well as to the much older -- but impishly charming -- Dodge? Somewhat predictable answers are presented, but that never interfered with my interest in these highly watchable characters.
I can’t help comparing Clooney’s work in this film with Cary Grant’s performances in earlier screwball comedies, particularly in His Girl Friday. Their comic timing, witty delivery, immense physical appeal and amusing facial reactions seem very similar to me. In days of yore, every man wanted to be Cary Grant; I think it’s George Clooney now. And no wonder! Clooney delivers the goods -- and looks amazing -- whether playing a serious dramatic role in Michael Clayton or an outrageously comic one in O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Directed by Clooney, Leatherheads also brings out the best in Krasinski and Zellweger. Krasinski certainly needed this movie to redeem himself after his woeful turn last year in License To Wed. His low-key portrayal of Carter Rutherford stands out as a splendid contrast to Clooney’s roguish character. And he projects a winning sensitivity in his scenes with Zellweger.
Speaking of Zellweger, she’s a delight as the sassy reporter, a kind of throw-back to Rosalind Russell’s role in His Girl Friday. I love the way her character banters so successfully with all the men. For example, when one of them tells her, “I didn’t come here to be insulted,” she replies, “Where DO you go for that?”
Production values in Leatherheads are first-rate, and Randy Newman’s perky background music plus Al Jolson’s rendition of “Toot Toot Tootsie, Goodbye” contribute to the playful mood of this period film. It’s a totally enjoyable movie, especially for George Clooney fans like me.
(Released by Universal Pictures and rated “PG-13” for brief strong language.)