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57 Years Old and Broke

December 1st, 2010 · No Comments

This month’s theme was hatched after someone with much better taste recommended that I add the 2005 romantic drama Shopgirl to my queue. Looking for nine more films with similar themes, “Based on Novel”, “Redhead” and “Salesgirl” were all considered and rejected before I settled on “May December Romance”. So in the month of December, I’ll take a look at love separated by much more than just six months on the calendar.

Crazy Heart (2009)
Directed by Scott Cooper
Screenplay by Scott Cooper, based on the novel by Thomas Cobb
Produced by Scott Cooper, Robert Duvall, Rob Carliner, Judy Cairo, T Bone Burnett
112 minutes

Stripped down to longing, regret and inspiration, Crazy Heart is the film version of a country tune, small but perfect. A journeyman actor, Scott Cooper’s role in Gods and Generals mostly hit the cutting room floor. He did get to work with Robert Duvall and the two became friends. An aspiring writer-director, Cooper’s grand ambition was to make the life story of Merle Haggard. He spent a year on the road with the recording legend, whose life rights the aspiring filmmaker realized were knotted in legal thorns. Luckily, an acquaintance gave Cooper a copy of Thomas Cobb’s 1987 novel Crazy Heart, the tale of a boozed up and beat down songwriter equal parts Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and Townes Van Zandt, Cooper’s musical heroes. He adapted a script and with the support of Robert Duvall, ultimately got his two wishes, landing the talents of music producer T Bone Burnett and actor Jeff Bridges.

Filmed mostly in New Mexico on a brisk 24-day schedule with a budget of $7 million, Crazy Heart rode universal critical acclaim all the way to the Academy Awards, where Ryan Bingman & T Bone Burnett (Best Original Song) and Jeff Bridges (Best Actor) won Oscars. Not as haunted as Robert Duvall’s down and out Max Sledge in Tender Mercies, Jeff Bridges channels the spirit of Kris Kristofferson, growling and fumbling his way through a character who’s a songwriter first, alcoholic second and entertainer further down the line. Cooper’s take on the material is character driven and nuanced, rejecting show business melodrama for a lower and far richer key. The soundtrack boasts some of the best original music I’ve heard in a movie in a long time, while the incomparable Maggie Gyllenhaal leads a fine supporting cast that includes Tom Bower, Rick Dial, Colin Farrell and ol’ Duvall himself.

Driving his ’78 Chevy Suburban into Pueblo, New Mexico, singer-songwriter Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) is as disgusted to be booked into a bowling alley as he is to learn that his contract does not include a bar tab. 57 years old and flat broke, Bad rejects an offer relayed by his Beverly Hills manager (Paul Herman) to write some new songs for Tommy Sweet, a former protégé of Bad’s who is now a country music superstar. Barely making it through a set before puking his guts out, Bad fares much better in Santa Fe, where a piano player (Rick Dial) convinces the musician to grant a rare interview to his niece, an aspiring journalist. Dropping by his motel room while her subject scoops his dinner wearing only a towel, Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal) brings out the best in Bad, though he declines to answer any questions about Tommy Sweet or his children.

Continuing her interview over two-night his stop in Santa Fe, Jean’s spirit seems to drop the years off Bad. After sleeping together, she agrees to let him bake biscuits for her 4-year-old son, who takes an immediate liking to the Texan. Bad swallows his pride and accepts an offer to open for Tommy Sweet in Phoenix. In spite of his super stardom, Tommy (Colin Farrell) extends gratitude toward his broken down mentor, even joining him on stage. Bad makes a beeline back to Santa Fe, falling asleep at the wheel and rolling the Suburban. He ignores doctor’s orders to quit drinking and implores Jean to come visit him back home in Houston. The romance inspires Bad to write new material for the first time in years and to telephone his estranged 28-year-old son, but his drinking takes a sudden toll on the relationship when Jean arrives for a visit with her son.

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 101,594 users: 72% for Crazy Heart

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: 83 for Crazy Heart

What do you say?

Tags: Based on novel · Concert · Drunk scene · Father/son relationship · Music · No opening credits · Road trip · Shot In Texas · Small town · Unconventional romance

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