“Crazy Heart” starts out like so many independent artsy films about addiction, illness, fame, talent and aging, or any combination of those elements. Jeff Bridges plays a washed-up, alcoholic country music star who is now travelling solo in an old suburban, playing bowling alleys, and begging his label to advance him some cash and release yet another “Greatest Hits” CD. He is old, fat, ugly, and out of luck. This is familiar Oscar bait territory; it’s the second cousin of Playing Ugly and the grand uncle of Rain Man Syndrome. We get to watch a respectable actor puke in their underwear and act, utterly unrespectable. Maybe it’s poetic justice we crave; we like watching our idols fall. It worked for Jeff Bridges; he walked away with an Oscar for “Crazy Heart.” It also worked for Mickey Rourke last year, in “The Wrestler,” which was a movie very similar to “Crazy Heart,” only better.
Bridges is Bad Blake, a legendary country music star from the days of outlaw country who bears more than a little resemblance to Kris Kristofferson. But country music has changed, and left Blake behind; now the fans want slick and sexy instead of gruff and grouchy, and Blake’s one-time protege, played by Colin Farrel, is all the rage. “Crazy Heart” seems to bear the promise of some kind of showdown between Bad and his protege, played by Colin Farrel, symbolizing what was once called “outlaw country” vs the stuff they play on the radio, but it never materializes. In fact, Farrel seems to be in the movie so that there can be a happy ending. Whether or not Bad deserves this happy ending, whether it’s achieved by selling out, isn’t addressed.
Maggie Gyllenhaal is a music writer in Albuquerque, which is a pretty lousy place to try and make a living writing about music. She harangues an interview with Bridges, and well, one thing leads to another. She has a four year old son, and Bridges does honestly seem to adore him; Gyllenhaal can see this rough-around-the-edges washed up country singer filling in the Father Gap in her little boy, and maybe that’s why she keeps him around. But then tragedy almost strikes, and it’s Bridges’ fault, or at least seems to be; it’s easy to blame a guy who’s perpetually drunk when something goes wrong. And the whole thing falls apart. Hell hath no fury like a single mother scorned.
Bridges is great throughout, never overdoing it, even if he is primarily doing a 2-hour long Kristofferson impression. And Gyllenhaal, as usual, is excellent. Their chemistry seems odd – she’s at least 20 years younger than he is – but seems to work on its own terms. And yet all throughout, “Crazy Heart” feels light and trifling, a little too easy, a little too simple. The ending comes awfully quickly, and leaves some questions about artistry and integrity hanging; it feels, when the credits roll, like first-time director Scott Cooper seems more interested in making sure everyone–the audience included– is reasonably happy after two hours than in honestly following the threads of his story where they might lead. “Crazy Heart” is a pretty good movie, better than many, but it’s an awful lot like “The Wrestler,” which dug deeper, rang truer, and hit harder. Call it “The Wrestler” lite.