Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight
I was recently watching Crazy Heart, the acclaimed Jeff Bridges’ tour de force about a country western star circling the toilet, and then singing his way out. It started off gritty and realistic. You could almost smell the sweat and mold. So realistic that Bridges’ character, Bad Blake, actually walks off stage during a gig and tosses his cookies -- as well as his glasses -- into the same garbage can before scooping up the glasses, putting them on and walking back onstage to finish the song. Okay: TMI. But, you get what they’re going for here: seedy motels, crummy pick-up trucks, rot-gut whiskey and the end of the line.
And then, as if the co-ed audience is not smart enough to get the piece of the puzzle that doesn’t fit, Blake’s paired with a rising journalist asking naive questions. What’s more, she’s played by scantily dressed Maggie Gyllenhaal, 32. She’s flirting for all she’s worth. At 60, Bridges is suddenly acting his heart out opposite a Hollywood male fairy tale.
That adds up to 28 years between the stars. And you feel the falsity of every one of those years as Blake skulks around in his motel room in tighty-once-whities in a daily hangover haze, and she arrives, ducking her forehead shyly, in a tank top and perfect tan. Their coupling -- and, yes, it happens and it’s on camera though thankfully short -- is inevitable only for a Hollywood screenwriter. Realism? Not.
In recent years, the Alliance of Women Film Journalists has recognized and awarded the "most egregious age difference between the leading man and the love interest." We love that! The Bridges-Gyllenhaal split earned a nomination but lost out to the 40-year difference between Larry David and Evan Rachel Wood in Woody Allen’s Whatever Works. (Full disclosure: as a member of the group, I voted for Crazy Heart.)
The majority of male critics don’t seem to be nearly as bothered by this fairy tale matchmaking. “No scene feels obligatory,” writes Nick Pinkerton of The Village Voice. David Germain of the Associated Press wrote: “Despite their age difference, Bridges and Gyllenhaal ease into romance naturally and believably.” The movie ranked 100 percent positive on the Rotten Tomatoes tomatometer among top critics.
At a recent panel at Columbia University, I sat beside an esteemed male critic who claimed most of our colleagues didn’t write from a place of bias. That’s about as believable as the egregious pairing in Crazy Heart.