A Familiar Old Record
In Crazy Heart, we watch a broken-down celebrity performer at the end of his career, having lived his life into a corner and not being able to see where the rest of the road leads. Sound familiar? Even if it might not match exactly other stories you can recall, this basic premise is so well-worn it's a wonder anyone bothers to use it any more. Still, I suppose it is the natural endpoint to all human existences. Toward the end of our lives, after we may have even gotten what we wanted out of life, will we find fulfillment, contentment, peace -- happiness? Since we'll all get there, I guess we can't ask these questions enough.
The wayward soul in this case is Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges), a once successful and popular country music singer now finding himself playing gigs at bowling alleys when he's not being asked to open concerts for younger crowd-drawing upstarts. Blake appears as we expect he should -- he smokes, he holes up in his hotel room while he's traveling, he beds groupies meaninglessly, he's ornery, and he drinks enough to have to rush out and vomit in the middle of a set. Give Bridges the credit he deserves then -- this character model looks quite used on paper, and yet when Bridges inhabits him, we follow his lead. Something about him simply looks good in the get-up they've got him in, with his shaggy long grey hair, his dusty beard, and his gut. He conveys charm under his beat-up soul to mask his jadedness; and he does it in a way to remind us people like him must actually exist. We haven't met Bad Blake until this film, but we're sure we already know him.
In other words, Crazy Heart is one of those cases where the lead actor makes the movie, and Bridges does his job carrying the load. So where does the character go? Naturally, a woman will set him straight, and, even more naturally, the woman will be about half his age. This would be Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a single mother who first meets Blake in order to interview him for her local paper. Now Blake obviously meets lots of women -- the movie gives us plenty of evidence of this -- and he also mentions that he's been married four times. Why would he fall for Jean in particular? And why isn't he more guarded about it (although this lack of guardedness could explain the four ex-wives)? It doesn't matter -- all that does is that he takes her seriously enough so that, somehow, she'll make a difference to him when he needs to examine where his life is headed.
Crazy Heart, directed by Scott Cooper, is fine for the kind of film it is, but I can't help thinking this movie, in its release timing and the talk surrounding it about Bridges's performance being award-worthy, arrives in the same spot as last year's The Wrestler. However, The Wrestler felt truly special -- whether owing to Mickey Rourke's performance, Darren Aronofsky's direction, or the depths that both men take their main character, that movie conveyed helpless pain in a way as raw as I've ever seen. At some point in Crazy Heart, pain like that is touched upon during a key moment, the moment Blake realizes he's more a screw-up than he's let himself believe. However, I feel Blake had all this time to learn the lessons he's learning in the movie, so I can't quite figure out why he's more open to learning them now.
That's not to say the movie doesn't work; if it didn't hit me like a ton of bricks, at least it did make a favorable impression, and I believe I have Bridges's affability and watchability to thank for that. I also enjoyed the surprise appearance of Colin Farrell, who goes unbilled. He plays that upstart country star Blake is supposed to open for, and I had to smile at the sight of Farrell in such a role. Later, he gets on stage to sing a country music duet with Blake. I never thought I'd see Jeff Bridges and Colin Farrell singing a country song together -- and they do quite well. It's one rather enjoyable moment that helped Crazy Heart's case, but I think this film could've used a few more moments like that.
(Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures and rated "R" for language and brief sexuality.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.