I was excited to see writer/director David Gordon Green tackling this real life story. Although I wasn’t a fan of some of his comedies (Pineapple Express was too over-the-top, Your Highness just wasn’t funny), and his film Princess Avalanche (Paul Rudd) was a mess. Yet I was profoundly moved by Snow Angels, and felt it was one of the best movies of 2007.
Having Jake Gyllenhaal, a guy that always makes interesting choices with his work, play Jeff Bauman, seemed like a great start. Bauman was at the Boston Marathon holding a sign in support of an old girlfriend that was running. He lost his legs during the bombing. And since Gyllenhaal is playing the guy with the disability, he’ll be the one that gets the Oscar nomination. He shouldn’t. The Boston accent wasn’t working so well, although he does bring a lot of humanity to the role.
If any Oscar nominations are awarded, it should be for the girlfriend (Tatiana Maslany), as well as the mother (played by British actress Miranda Richardson, who already has two Oscar nods under her belt). Mom drinks and curses an awful lot, and is rather overbearing. And if Viola Davis can get an Oscar nomination for one scene in the movie Doubt, surely Spanish actor Carlos Sanz can get one here. He plays the guy in the cowboy hat that saved Bauman, and they have a drink together in a rather powerful scene.
There was also a nice role for character actor Clancy Brown as the father.
It’s nice that the film avoided a lot of cliches I expected, but it’s still a rather formulaic biopic. It’s interesting to watch as a regular guy is thrown into the limelight. He’s brought out at a Bruins game, throws out the first pitch at a Red Sox game, but he’s not comfortable with this type of attention. He’s confused as to why people call him a hero for losing his legs. He seems bothered by folks that want to take his picture or shake his hand. It’s an interesting dilemma to watch him deal with, coupled with the usual problems you’d expect a man that loses his legs to deal with.
It’s also amazing that Gyllenhaal is able to pull of the right emotions needed for scenes. One moment he’s vulnerable. The next he’s charming and making jokes about how he’s Lieutenant Dan. One moment we’re pitying him and the next, we’re angry at his self-pitying, and not appreciating what his girlfriend is sacrificing for him. You can’t help but wonder if she’s doing this out of guilt, too; in the beginning of the movie, she makes it clear she’s done with him.
The love story just doesn’t have enough spark. The recovery process just doesn’t make me root for him the way I should. You’re kind of wondering what will happen first — him learning to walk again, or growing up.
It was interesting watching what felt like an authentic, working class family in Boston. They were constantly bickering and it felt perfect. Yet it also felt like stuff you saw in The Fighter and The Town.
The movie didn’t feel as exploitative as last year’s Patriots Day (Mark Wahlberg). It’s heart is certainly in the right place and it’s serviceable entertainment.
My wife was reluctant to see it, and she ended up liking it more than I did.
I’m giving it 3 stars out of 5.
[side note: can movie studios stop using Pete Townshend’s “My Love Open the Door”? Good song, but it’s been in way too many movies.]