Crazy Heart (2009) Directed by Scott Cooper
If you will permit me to go back to 2007 and the SXSW music festival. Amy Winehouse has just broken big in the USA. She is playing at least one show everyday of the festival and on some days two or three. It was my last time in Austin, and I have to say, it was nigh on impossible to catch Amy during the festival. She was either late for her shows, canceling shows, or, as we heard from one doorman, throwing up mid-song on stage. It was the first time I realized there was something seriously wrong with Winehouse after her meteoric rise to fame. Winehouse's death this weekend was predictable but no less tragic. Yes, fame can be a monster to deal with I'm sure, but am I alone in finding it so cliché to succumb to such a predictable death? That record definitely is broken, move on, nothing to see here.
Crazy Heart suffers from the same dealing in cliché. It's a very sensitively made film, well acted and well written. It looks good, its striving for authenticity is most welcome in a music-related film, even if at times the film has a made-for-TV vibe. There's just the sense that this is second hand goods. If we want to get specific, way back in 1983, Duvall starred in the excellent Tender Mercies, the story of a middle-aged country singer, who enters a new relationship and tries to reconnect with his long lost daughter and put his troubled life back together. Replace the daughter with a son and I've just described the main thrust of Crazy Heart for you. Duvall, like Jeff Bridges does in Crazy Heart, performs the songs on screen very well (Duvall also performed his own songs for TM). Also, like Bridges did, Duvall won a best actor Oscar for playing an alcoholic country singer.
Duvall was one of the producers on Crazy Heart and he must have seen some worth in resurrecting this tale. My problem with a film that really is fine, is its dealing in that old rock n roll cliché of past it singers and life on the road. If we look at Winehouse's case, I guess those clichés still define a troubled artist's life. Bridges is great and offered good support from Gyllenhaal, who has pretty much defined this role in her other movies. But ultimately Crazy Heart is entertaining lite fluff. It offers no real insight into the reason why musicians get so led astray. Nothing deep here, so don't go looking for meaning. That could also be the reason, despite its many faults, why Crazy Heart ultimately works.
On the day that we heard Amy Winehouse had died, we ended up watching Crazy Heart – a film about an alcoholic musician – strangely timely. Amy's life story is a much sadder and more hopeless one, than the destiny of Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) in the movie. Kind of unfashionably in these cynical times, in Crazy Heart a man is able to get help for his addiction, he turns his life around and there is hope in the end.
Musicians are very often portrayed as alcoholics in cinema, but I must admit from the many I know personally too many fit the description. I can too easily imagine the young ones 20 years down the line struggling just like Bad Blake. In the film the motivation for change comes from falling in love. I wonder why it is so often the case that it is easier to care for one self if it can be wrapped up as caring for another? Exceptionally, in Crazy Heart the love interest (Maggie Gyllenhaal) draws the line and leaves the man, when Blake loses her 4-year-old son in downtown Houston. It is still rare to find movies about addiction that do not end up promoting codependency as a byproduct.
Crazy Heart is a gentle movie about a serious subject. Jeff Bridges is great as a little but Dude-like Bad, who even at his worst still seems to enjoy the odd laugh in his life. The subject of his estranged son is thankfully left after the son says he does not want to see his father. This plot line and the general theme of the film resonated strongly with The Wrestler, but where that film was hopeless this one holds on to its optimism – people can change.