Crazy Heart (2009)

Directed by Scott Cooper

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In Crazy Heart an aging musician finds renewed purpose thanks to a brief romance with a much younger woman.  That musician is Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges), a country star who has traded in theaters and stadiums for bowling alleys and dive bars.

Blake’s journey is ripe with movie cliches and tropes.  He’s an alcoholic, disgraced artist clinging to the past and to youth, with a much more successful protege of whom he is resentful, and a manager who only shows up in phone calls to drive the plot along and establish the stakes.  His story arc, including the love story, feels formulaic, but Bridges’ performance is enough to keep the character grounded.

That being said, it’s the world around Blake which feels so inauthentic.  His protege, Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell) feels like a vapid archetype of a country star, with no real inner life other than to represent what Blake could’ve had.  Then there’s Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a young reporter who wants to interview Blake.

It’s established early on that Blake is partial to the one night stand, and not long after Jean comes to see him in his hotel room he will make an uncomfortable pass at her.  She will leave but then come by to see him again the next night, and suddenly they’ve started an unexpected romantic relationship.

The sincerity of this relationship surprised me, mostly because it seemed to get off to such an inauspicious start.  Jean is only there for the interview, one she greatly covets, and Blake’s advances on her feel manipulative and problematic.

To enjoy the rest of the film you have to buy into this relationship, but I had trouble with it the whole time.  Gyllenhaal isn’t asked to do much but to act as the object of male fantasy, and there’s one sex scene which just feels a little over the top, mostly thanks to the age difference between the two actors.

As a character study Crazy Heart is intriguing, and Blake is a fascinating figure, but it never seemed to me like he would fall so quickly for Jean and that she would fall for him.  He’s a womanizer who moves from place to place, and his affections for any one person are presented from the start as being nothing beyond physical.  For her part she seems to have better sense than to get involved with a man so clearly falling apart at the edges (as she later observes), but I suppose their relationship speaks to the intoxicating power of celebrity and rock ‘n roll.

Much of Crazy Heart is shot in beautiful wide shots, covering the gorgeous pastoral landscape through which Blake and his old truck travel.  The movie will similarly end in a wide shot, the camera craning back and away as the two characters drift off into the sunset.

It is aesthetically beautiful, but it all feels too neat for a character like Bad Blake.  This goes for the way the story and the romance is constructed too.  We’re following a resentful, broke, alcoholic, and though he may be charismatic, he’s washed up and fed up.

Bad Blake, I suppose, doesn’t realize how lucky he is, but I guess the point of the movie is that soon he will.  The characters exist to flatter him or encourage his growth.  He runs into an old friend (Robert Duvall) who takes him fishing, a young protege he loathes who is nothing but kind and helpful to him and Jean, who gives in to his every charm, no matter how hallow it may be.

And I guess that’s my complaint about the movie, that it’s put together too neatly.  There is no real mess or chaos to a character and world that should have plenty.  Even when he bottoms out, it feels safe, and in the span of a few movie minutes he’s clean and sober, just like that.

Crazy Heart brings up Blake’s struggle but never lives in it.  No matter how down and out he is, we’re still meant to see him like the rockstar he once was and thinks he always will be.

Up Next: Beetlejuice (1988), Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018), The Crying Game (1992)

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