I do not have sophisticated taste in films - I don't turn up my nose at the popular blockbusters. I don't go in for art films! And so I generally like what others like and I'm surprised when I don't.
So I was really surprised that I didn't like Crazy Heart, the highly rated film starring Jeff Bridges as a chain-smoking, womanizing, alcoholic country singer. Bridges was nominated for a best actor Oscar for this role!
In fact, I left the theatre feeling angry and, several days later, it is still irritating me.
Caution - spoiler alert ahead!
Why did I react this way? Well, first off, I didn't buy for an instant that the charming, lithe young character played by Maggie Gyllenhaal (age 32) fell head over heels for disgusting, smelly, fat old Bad Blake who was supposed to be 58 and looked older. I suppose that - in part - it rankled because of the general notion in our society that it's OK for men to be and look old, but women always have to be young, slim, and unwrinkled. [It doesn't help that I have spend nearly two weeks in a part of the world where everyone seems to have 'had work done'! And while I'm on a rant, what's the idea of going to the gym with perfect flowing bleached blond hair and full makeup?]
I think what irks me the most is the way the film trivializes suffering in life. Bad Blake is an addict. He hits a rough patch, realizes the error of his ways, goes to a bucolic rehab place, and suddenly turns his life around. He cleans up his act and - '16 months later' we can see that he's a good boy and will stay that way forever. Annoyingly and oh so predictably, he finally gives up his life-long moniker of 'Bad' and go back to his given name of Otis. Bah! What nonsense! Get it? Bad can easily be turned to good - or at least to Otis.
Does this story of easy redemption make some people feel good? It is a hideously unrealistic view of how hard it it to change in such a major way and trivializes the struggle of recovering from addictions.
For those of us without addictions, maybe this is a feel-good film because we can look at Bad Blake and feel morally superior. "Look, if the guy can clean up his act that easily, he should have done it long ago!"
And maybe the idea of easy redemption makes us feel good because it gives us the sense that we can change if we really want to and that it won't be hard. This image poorly serves people who are prisoners to addictions and the other torments to which human beings are subject. If you expect it to be easy to get rid of them, you are guaranteed to fail in your efforts at recovery. And if you are expecting a loved one to clean up that easily, you're not going to be able to have the patience and fortitude for the long, difficult, road ahead.
People do not become addicts because they think it's cool to be chain-smoking boozers. They become addicts usually because they are self-medicating as a way to numb some deeper pain. Stopping the drinking or drugs is so hard not only because of physical addictions, but also because the underlying pains are now untreated.
If we are going to become the best people we can be, we need to know how hard it is. It takes community and support and patience and hopefulness. Films like this one do not help.
[I feel bad for dissing the film, so Jeff, if you're out there, I thought your acting was pretty good...]