I’m not going to lie to you: I like terrible movies. I think it’s because I read so much serious stuff for my academic work and for my teaching that I enjoy really, really dumb films. My one caveat is romantic comedy: I would rather have my corneas scraped by sporks than watch pretty much any romantic comedy. But if it’s got explosions, monsters, robots, dragons, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, or any of the Judd Apatow boys, I am in like Fynn.
In San Francisco, while waiting in line for the film we intended to see, my dear friend Jana and I discussed how we share this similarity. Yeah, we can totally see super intense indie films, but, for the most part, we prefer happy go lucky shenanigans over eye-opening exposÃ©s of the human condition. We were going to see Me and Orson Welles (hoping it would be lighthearted-ish), when Jana said, “Ooo, look! They have Crazy Heart! I want to see that!”
And so we did. We bought tickets, sat down, and then enjoyed about two hours of pure torture. Here’s the trailer:
Now, when I say torture, I’m not being a jerk. I say torture because I have no doubt the director of Crazy Heart wanted his audience to understand the reality that is severe alcoholism. And understand we do: there is not one iota of glamorousness in Jeff Bridge’s incredible depiction of his character, aptly named Bad. Bad is, quite simply, “bad.” He is not evil, nor is he even wicked: he’s bad in the way that selfish little children are bad. Bridges even looks a bit like a child, at times, rolling around with his pants and shirt always semi-undone. His belly squidges about and his underpants droop, as he boozes and vomits his way through his own existence.
Occasionally, there are flashes of the Bad that exists when he’s not halfway through a bottle of hootch, and despite every bottle full of urine Â we’ve seen emptied out on the roadside(Bad likes to pee and drive), or every trash can we’ve seen hurled into, the audience can understand why Maggie Gyllenhal’s character falls for the Big Bad. She has a penchant for wayward boys, and Bad, even well into his fifties? sixties?, is as wayward and boyish as a girl can get.
What happens next is part train wreck, part Greek tragedy. We know it can’t get worse, and then it does. Until Bad’s descent is over over, leaving him officially broken.
At this point in the film, I was quietly trying to chew through my own wrists so I would bleed out, and not have to endure any more belly-shots, or barf-shots, or see the comely lass kiss that very same mouth that just did that in the toilet.
And that’s when the film took off, taking me with it. I’ve heard the words “quietly redemptive” applied to other films or novels, and I think that Crazy Heart should be the example of this rather vague, and apparently oxymoronic term. I say apparently, because as audiences we are so used to a form of redemption that is anything but quiet. We are used to racked blue smurfs apologizing for their misunderstanding the circle of life by BLOWING UP AN ENTIRE ARMY OF ENEMIES. Or a father making up with the child he walked out on by GIVING HIS SON A KIDNEY AND THEN A LIVER AND THEN PART OF HIS LUNG. You get the drift. In Hollywood movies, people are forgiven for all sorts of things, by working the sorts of miracles that often require teams of special effects experts.
Bad doesn’t get that kind of redemption, because that sort of redemption doesn’t really exist. But he does get a second shot at life, and the quite fortitude with which he digs into his new existence is what made this film almost sublime for me. We see that modest, kind, thoughtful, and gentle Bad that kept getting drowned in whisky come to the forefront, and we see him try (and mostly fail) to make amends for the terrible hurts he has caused.
That Bad fails to achieve redemption, sometimes, doesn’t disappoint. For what is truly redemptive about Bad, and this film, is watching him offer himself up, again and again, to the realities of the hurts he has caused, andÂ quietlyÂ ask for forgiveness