Sunday, March 29, 2015

Bad Heart

More musical movies: Crazy Heart (2009). Almost the only part of R.I.P.D. we enjoyed was Jeff Bridges singing a little song, written by T-Bone Burnett, so we figured we should watch the movie where that's the whole thing.

Bridges stars as country singer-songwriter Bad Blake. We meet him arriving at a gig, at a bowling alley in Nowheres New Mexico, getting out of a cramped car and emptying his pee-bottle. His day doesn't get much more dignified after that. He meets his fans, a few old dried-up looking country types. One of them owns the liquor store where Bad is considering buying a tiny little bottle of something, but the owner considers it an honor to buy Bad a fifth of his favorite. Not necessarily a favor. He meets the pickup band they've arranged for him, a bunch of kids that clearly don't think much of this washed-up drunk. He has to reassure them that, sick, drunk, divorced or on the run, Bad Blake never missed a show.

By the way, the pickup band is lead by Ryan Bingham, who opened for Dylan's Americanarama show in 2013, so I got to see him. He's great, which kind of undercuts the idea that Bad is playing dumps with local clowns. It's a bowling alley, and the fans look about as bad as he does, but the band can rock, he remembers the dedication the liquor store owner requested, and even though he has to cut out in the middle of a song to puke, he kind of makes it work.

Later, he meets up with young Maggie Gyllenhaal, a single mother who interviews him for the local paper and shares a moment with him. He kind of takes to her and her son. He wants to take care of the son, maybe not as a father, but a fun uncle. -SPOILER- That doesn't work out.

It turns out that Bad Blake had mentored another country singer, Colin Farrell (believe it or not), who got really famous and is now playing arenas. He wants to help Blake, but Blake is too pissed off about it all. -SPOILER AGAIN- Farrell is a nice guy who really wants to help. He brings out Bad for a couple of duets in one of his big shows, which was filmed at a Vince Gill concert. It all works pout pretty OK.

But my concern is, how good was the music? Bridges sells the songs well, maybe more like a songwriter than a singer, but not bad. The rockers are more fun than the ballads, but that's generally true. I liked Fallin' and Flyin' a lot: "Funny how fallin' feels like flyin'/For a little while." But given T-Bone Burnett's god-like status as a producer and songwriter, and Jeff's affinity for the music, you'd think they could have come up with something better. The original songs - there are only 3 or 4 - seem overworked and under-inspired. They were clearly going for "anthemic", and when they didn't get it, they kept grinding away. Not the best way to write a song.

But they sure got the whole life-of-a-jobbing-musician down. Bad Blake was a little bit of all the outlaw songwriters, from Townes Van Zandt to Kris Kristofferson to Stephen Bruton, who wrote some of the songs here and died before it came out. For that, it's worth watching.

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