E: The name Bad Blake gives you almost all the information you need to know about Jeff Bridges’ character in the movie Crazy Heart. He’s the sort of musician true fans love; he never hit the big time, but he was the side man for and mentor to a superstar, and those in the know see his genius. He’s true country, writing bluesy roots with a wisdom belied by his personal choices. He’s blown it all, though, through five failed marriages and 40 years of hard living. These days he’s on a tour of small towns, playing in bowling alleys and dive bars with local backing bands and a contract that forbid him from running up a tab. He doesn’t bother practicing, but he always kindly remembers to dedicate songs to local fans. Bad prides himself on his professionalism; he never misses a show, even if he’s staggering out to empty his stomach in a trashcan during his most famous song. He drinks himself through the day, and spends his nights with whatever boozy local fan presents herself.
At the start of a two day stint in Santa Fe, he trudges into a dive bar, where a portly middle aged man rocks a blues piano. What a pleasure, Bad enthuses, to play with a talented accompaniest. so much of Bad’s defeat is his exile, not so much from fame and fortune, but from making great music. The fellow immediately presses his advantage – in a gentlemanly way – and asks if Bad would do an interview with his niece, a young would-be reporter. Of course, Blake says graciously, though he’s unprepared when Gyllenhaal arrives at his door, a divorced mom trying to find her way in the world. Gyllenhaal’s Jane is lanky, with round blue eyes and Cambpell soup kid cheeks, and there’s something in her hesitation that’s deeply sexy. They share an instant rapport. It’s far from a meet cute (he’s eating take out, dripping wet and wrapped in a towel) but he’s immediately smitten, and turns down the local floozy for the chance to see Jane again. And improbable as I might think it, she likes him too. She’s flattered by the attention of a creative genius, and by the next night, they’re tossing back whiskey and she’s the one making the first move. And in no time at all, she’s taken him home to meet her adorable, feisty 4 year old son, Buddy, and danger alarms are ringing through my head.
Bad Blake gets a shot back at the big time (or somewhere close) opening for Tommy Sweets, the country superstar who was once Blake’s protege. He starts writing again, something he hasn’t done in years. Somewhat to her surprise (as she constantly sells herself short) Bad is drawn back to Jane and Buddy. Blake has a son of his own, one he hasn’t seen since the boy was 4 (though he’s now about Jane’s age) and you can see Bad counting the steps to redemption, insinuating himself into their lives as if his own had never gone wrong, but without a thought of sobriety. It’s terrifying. Can this old dog learn new tricks, or will he make old mistakes on new people? We meet the others who are important to Blake’s world – Robert Duvall’s sober barkeep, and Colin Farrel (nicely faking the southern accent, and with a voice you’d never guess he possessed) as slick, handsome Sweets. Their relationships are complex. And every step Jane is drawn into Bad’s world, I cringed. This is one of those movies that courts either disaster or triumph; I guessed wrong about the ending, myself.
I saw Crazy Heart with a fellow Oscar obsessive, My Movie Going Friend. I have to admit, we were both pretty hesitant, and prepared to grit our teeth through it. Maybe that’s weird, but it’s something both of us do because we like seeing all the Oscar nominated films. Sometimes that does end up putting us through movies we loathe, but often, a film we might have otherwise overlooked will surprise us. And Crazy Heart did, pleasantly. It wasn’t my favorite movie of the year by a long shot, but it was certainly worth my time.
Crazy Heart is nominated for three Oscars: Actor, for Jeff Bridges, Supporting Actress for Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Song for “The Weary Kind”, the tune from which the film’s title was plucked. Bridges and “The Weary Kind” had been shoo-ins. Gyllenhaal’s nomination surprised most people (myself included) though My Movie Going Friend and I essentially turned to each other during a particular moment and said “Oscar clip!”. It might be blasphemy, but I’m glad Gyllenhaal was nominated over my beloved Julianne Moore. Moore’s role in A Single Man was slight; I’m far more peeved that she wasn’t nominated for An Ideal Husband, lo so many years ago. And honestly, anyone who can make falling for Bad Blake (a wreck of a man twice her age) seem believable deserves an Oscar nomination.
Bridges has every chance to win his first Oscar. Would I vote for him over Colin Firth? No. I’m sure he’s hurt by my memory of Mickey Rorke’s searing work in last year’s masterpiece The Wrestler. There’s too much similarity to flatter Bridges, where Firth’s work is original and perfect. Do I think Bridges unworthy? No. Oscar rarely confines itself to the actual best performances of the year. Often we see winners rewarded for their careers (Kate Winslet) or for their personal charms (Marion Cotillard, Roberto Benini); Bridges may fall into both those categories. He seems to be enormously popular, and people seem to think it’s his time. Gyllenhaal, of course, will lose to Mo’Nique. Now there’s an example of merit overwhelming everything. No one’s saying it’s her time, or looking to honor her accumulated body of work. I doubt most Academy members could name something else off her filmography without aid of the imdb. No, Mo’Nique truly gave the performance of the year. For Gyllenhaal, the surprise nomination is her achievement.
“The Weary Kind”‘s fate is more uncertain. It has a very strong shot at winning Best Song; it’s already won the Golden Globe (as well as the Broadcast Critics and a few other such honors). That’s not as clear an indicator as you might imagine, but surely writer/musical co-ordinator T-Bone Burnett (the musical mind behind O Brother Where Art Though and Walk the Line) has as good a shot as he might wish for. The two (excellent) songs from The Princess and the Frog could easily cancel each other out, no one’s heard of Paris 36, and Nine tanked. For my money, however, I was as impressed – if not more – by other songs on the soundtrack, namely “Fallin’ and Flyin'”, “Hold on You” and “I Don’t Know.” Burnett will always interest me in a movie – something I share with Bridges, who initially turned down the script because there was no music and no musical director attached to it. And it’s the music that will stay with me.