MOVIES: Crazy Heart (2009) and Blue Valentine (2010)

A few weeks ago, I went and saw the movie Blue Valentine by myself in the theater.  It’s a great film, just like everybody’s saying it is (though, personally, I thought Ryan Gosling was in way over his head), but man, it bummed me out so completely, so to the core, I couldn’t even write a review of it.   I kept trying and I kept failing.  And so, I’ve finally given up.  This is the only review you’re going to get from me:   Blue Valentine is devastatingly sad.

(But hey, Ebert’s review of that film is so spot-on, in my opinion, it’s really the only one you need.  His line, “Dean thinks marriage is the station; Cindy thought it was the train” is the most  spot-on and thoughtful summation of any movie I have ever read. Damn that Ebe — he’s still got it.)

I mention Blue Valentine because this film made me think of it again the other night.  You see, Crazy Heart is also a movie about a failed relationship that made me feel tremendously sad.  But it was a different kind of sadness, in part because while it doesn’t have what anybody would call a “happy” ending, it ends with a sense of hopeful futures for both characters.  It might take some time, but you know they’re going to be okay.

As you’re probably aware, Crazy Heart is the story of a country singer, Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges, who won an Oscar last year for this role) who started his career with tremendous success but has been going downhill pretty much ever since.  When we meet him, he’s in his 50’s, grizzled and grayed, and he hasn’t written a new song in years.  He’s been making the rounds of pathetic, filthy bars in small towns, mostly drinking his way through life while cursing the success of the kid he once mentored, Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), another country star whose career has recently exploded.  Blake feels Sweet hasn’t been grateful enough for the boost he once gave him, and he’s been harboring a grudge, rooted in shame and jealousy, for a very long time.

When Blake heads to another small town for another lame performance, though, he meets a music reporter, Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who wants to interview him for the local newspaper, in the hopes a big story about the once-legendary Bad Blake will finally get her the recognition she wants as a serious music writer.

Blake agrees to the interview, in part because he’s flattered such a pretty girl knows who he is and is excited to talk to him, and he and Jean have several encounters over the next few days while she asks him questions and he mostly doesn’t answer them.  Then one night, after a show, they end up sleeping together, and it’s pretty much all over for both of them — somewhere between the questions and bed, they’ve fallen in love.

The problem is that Jean has a young son and Blake is an alcoholic with a big chip on his shoulder, something Jean struggles to tolerate around her boy.  Though they fight for months to keep the relationship going, when Blake gets drunk while watching her son and then loses  him in a shopping center, it’s all over.  Jean kicks him out, and he slinks away, devastated and humiliated — and finally hitting the rock bottom he so sorely needs.

The movie ends about a year after their break-up, and while I won’t tell you the details of what happens, in the final scene, the two meet at a concert and update each other on their lives.  It’s immediately, painfully clear that Blake still loves her while she’s mostly moved on, and their facial expressions and body language in this scene were almost unbearable to watch.  The weight of that loss for Blake, coupled with the complexity of loving someone deeply who is clearly happier without you is just — oof.  It’s just oof, I tell you.

Yet, though we end knowing they aren’t going to be moving forward together, those last minutes of the film also make it clear they’re both definitely going to be moving forward.  And that’s where the sadness of the circumstances becomes more bittersweet than agonizing.

All in all, this is a beautiful, moving film, with great music, powerful acting, and really wonderful cinematography.  I highly, highly recommend it.   Brace yourself for a bit of a bummer, though, and whatever you do, don’t double-feature it with Blue Valentine unless you have a very, very strong heart.

[Netflix Crazy Heart | Buy it | Prequeue Blue Valentine]

Blue Valentine:
Genre: Drama
Cast:  Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams

Crazy Heart:
Genre:  Drama
Cast:  Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, Tom Bower

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4 Responses to “MOVIES: Crazy Heart (2009) and Blue Valentine (2010)”

  1. Josh Grimmer Says:

    Blue Valentine is the best, saddest, best, saddest movie of 2010.

  2. Jo Says:

    I know Blue Valentine is a great movie, but I just can’t make myself watch it. I just can’t.

  3. Meg Says:

    I hear you, Jo. I vote for renting it, so you can weep freely and also drink heavily.

  4. marni Says:

    I loved Crazy Heart too. And yes, someday hope to see Blue Valentine because I love Ryan Gosling. But I’m not sure I can handle it within the next few years.

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