Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tugging at the Old Hearts Strings

I watched a movie recently. It was Crazy Heart, starring Jeff Bridges as a washed-up country music star named “Bad” who is drinking and smoking himself into an early grave as he makes the rounds of dive bars and bowling alleys trying to pick up a few bucks to keep himself in whiskey and cigarettes. He’s not doing it very well. He’s been married and divorced four times and has a 28 year old son he hasn’t seen since the boy was 4. He is in many ways the epitome of a loser. It’s every cliché you’ve ever heard about country music.

“Bad,” who lets us know a couple of times that he’s 57, gets what looks like a last shot at love but blows it because of his drinking. That forces him to clean up his act, and he rediscovers in himself his ability to write songs that touch people. The ending is bittersweet and I won’t spoil it for you, but I thought the acting was quite good and will tell you I enjoyed it.

I have not read the book upon which the movie was based and can’t speak to its originality, but the movie was absolutely predictable at almost every step along the way. I could see every move behind the scenes that was meant to play on the audience’s emotions, to tug on their heartstrings as the saying goes, from the achingly cute kid to the moment when “Bad” lies on his bathroom floor sick after another night of drinking. But despite this, I enjoyed the movie. I knew where they were leading me and I willingly agreed to be led there. I won’t call it a great movie but I didn’t feel like I wasted my time.

I guess I believe there’s a place for heartstrings tugging movies, and books. I didn’t always think that way. I’d say it was because I’m getting older, but that’s pretty cliché in its own right. I know it’s not because I’m getting wiser. I definitely think there’s an element of openness in me these days that I didn’t used to have. I don’t feel as if I need resist the emotional tug of certain kinds of stories. I wonder why I ever did.

How about you? What movie or book have you seen/read that tugged at the old heartstrings? Was it predictable and you liked it anyway? Can you say why?

25 comments:

the walking man said...

I haven't seen it but to be honest it sounds like a movie of Bukowski's life who in the end found his other self.

laughingwolf said...

hunter s. thompson and his kind come to mind...

have a gander at 'tender mercies', with robert duvall and tess harper... a similar type flick

jeff bridges is now concentrating on a musical career, as well, same band...

will check out your 'crazy heart' asap

Charles Gramlich said...

Mark, I watched Barfly, at my wife's urging, and found it pretty good. I think Crazy heart is a kind of Hank Williams tribute, although I'm not in the know much in that area.

Laughingwolf, haven't seen Tender Mercies. I'll check it out. thanks for the head's up

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Shee-it.

So much like the story of my life,right down to the country music.

But then I saw a Canadian comedian on TV last night who described a similar scenario.

...Man finally straightens out, stops drinking and fornicating...Gets a job as a KFC greeter on the roads, dressed in a chicken outfit.
I had to laugh out loud.

Oh, the nobility of it all.

From bad-ass poontanger to chicken.

I think he comedian had suggested keep on f*ckin'--because now you know the future.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Shee-it.

So much like the story of my life,right down to the country music.

But then I saw a Canadian comedian on TV last night who described a similar scenario.

...Man finally straightens out, stops drinking and fornicating...Gets a job as a KFC greeter on the roads, dressed in a chicken outfit.
I had to laugh out loud.

Oh, the nobility of it all.

From bad-ass poontanger to chicken.

I think he comedian had suggested keep on f*ckin'--because now you know the future.

Ty Johnston said...

Saving Private Ryan brings me to tears every time I watch it. It's the scene where the mother comes out on the porch and the car pulls up and out climbs and officer and a chaplain. Gets me every time.

Charles, I think younger men often won't allow themselves to be pulled by those heartstrings for a variety of reasons, one being that they fear it as a weakness in themselves. So much of being a male, especially when young, is caught up in the machismo of any given situation, that anything that doesn't validate the macho side is considered a slight. To varying degrees I see it in all cultures. How many different cultures are there in which men, again especially young men, wear clothing that's to some extent or other based upon the "bad asses" of their particular culture or social area?

And I'm not necessarily decrying machismo, as it does have its proper place and time. Just seems we men often enough feel that place and time is "all the time" and everywhere. I suppose that's one area in which men often enough find validation, and I don't preclude myself from that.

Heck, you're the professor. You tell me. I'm just an old journalist, and all we're good for is spouting off nonsense at a keyboard ... which it appears I've done again.

BernardL said...

'The Notebook' with James Garner was like that - predictable in every way, but you still willingly head down the path they're taking you.

Charles Gramlich said...

Ivan, I responded to this comment over on my blog.

Ty, I think you're right. I saw that in myself and I recognized it for what it was, even though I couldn't always get away from it. I definitely think this is a big element of the effect.

Bernardl, I've decided I want to see that movie, although I haven't had a chance to catch it yet. I will watch it.

AvDB said...

I remember watching Steel Magnolias as a teenager, staring unblinkingly at the screen in defiance as my friends melted into tears. I knew what the moviemakers wanted, and I refused to give them that. Like you said, there was some psychological issue cocooned within that little act of youthful rebellion, some need to prove I was tougher that the norm. Now, when Sally gets all hysterical at the funeral, I'm a goner.

Jess said...

I say "Yes-Yes-Yes" to Tender Mercies and to The Notebook. Both are great.

I wish I could watch Crazy Heart but I have this extremely weak stomach. Daughter informed me about a particular scene--uh, yeah, don't even want to think about it. :)

I remember when I was little my parents took me to the drive-in to see Shane. My dad and I cried. Every time I think of Shane, I feel sad.

Tyhitia Green said...

There are several I'd name, but I'll stick to a few.

As for movies, I'd say Imitation of Life--the 1959 version, not the 1934 version.

As for a book, I'd say The Road by Cormac McCarthy. This one was a movie too, but it didn't have the same emotional effect on me like the book did.

Charles Gramlich said...

AvDB, the first movie I remember getting misty eyed about was Old Yeller.

Jess, The champ did it to me. Omg, the sadness.

Tyhitia, the movie of The Road only affected me because the book had done so so strongly. A great book.

laughingwolf said...

a golden oldie, charles...

Charles Gramlich said...

Laughingwolf, I appreciate it.

Steve Malley said...

Think about it: how often does a movie really surprise you? Really.

Bridget Jones is going to get the right man, after she goes for the wrong one. Jason Bourne is going to get to the bottom of the mystery, and yes, of course it turns out to be his own handlers who are the bad guys.

Humanity will not have to 'just learn to like' the invading aliens.
Those rustlers are not going to get that pretty young widow's ranch. The detective will, in fact, find the murderer.

Yeah, the odd minor twist is fine, but once you know what kind of story you're seeing - or reading - you know where it's going and how it's going to get there.

We go along because we like the ride... :)

Erik Donald France said...

Absolutely agree with your take on Crazy Heart -- had a similar response.

Also got to see Jeff Bridges and T Bone Burnett and their band and they gave some insights into the story: a lot of the details are actual biographical deets of more than one singer, and only generally like Hank W., who was definitely the first (most dramatic?) in the line of country singers living that arc. They actually named one guy in particular but I didn't write it down.

As for heart strings in other flicks, I'll have to think about it. I generally can't stand Spielberg movies, though.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I saw Crazy Heart - bittersweet is an apt description. Trying to think of the last movie I saw that was predictable but drew me in regardless. Probably Avatar.

David J. West said...

I thought Passion of the Christ was one of those-I knew everything that was gonna happen (as the audience often wants-no real surprises) and yet I have to admit it touched me.

Its all about the presentation, the way the filmaker/storyteller can play us like puppets and make us feel what they want us too.

Once in a while I'll put a book down because I feel like the writer is pushing what they want me to feel too hard-I'd rather figure it our for myself-but I suspect most people like to be told.

I still haven't seen The Road but I loved the book.

Cloudia said...

like all great reviewers, you tell us mostly about you, and ourselves...







Warm Aloha from Honolulu


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jennifer said...

Terms of Endearment makes me cry EVERY time that I watch it. Same with Steel Magnolias. Stories about parents outliving their children just wreck me.

I haven't watched Crazy Heart but I like Jeff Bridges.

X. Dell said...

(1) As they say, never judge a book by it's movie.

(2) There is a very deliberate formula for screenwriting that's fairly strict in its application. Moreover, Hollywood absolutely believes in it--to the point where beats (mini-climaxes, plot points, etc.) are literally measured by the half-page. If you've seen a good number of movies, then no doubt you could find it predictable.

It also explains why a lot of books don't resemble their movies all that much.

But if you enjoyed it, hey!

Charles Gramlich said...

Steve Malley, it’s true that movies seldom surprise us. You know when the twists are likely to come, but most of the movies I watch are not so predictable as this one. The key is that with SF/fantasy/horror you have a greater range of available twists, which make them somewhat less predictable. Real life films have a narrower range of twists available.


Erik Donald France, I’m not a big fan of country music so Hank was the only one I really recognized. I’m sure there were others. I like some Spielberg movies and not others. ET was definitely a heart string tugger.

Alex J. Cavanaugh, Avatar was very predictable, although the special effects kept me watching. The story was not very original.


David J. West, It’s a fine line between leading or guiding the reader and pushing the reader. I imagine that, like with much else, it depends on the individual viewer as to what they will stomach or not.

Cloudia, thanks for the kind words. Glad you enjoyed.


jennifer, I have not seen either of those. I might have a very hard time with that theme too.

Charles Gramlich said...

X-Dell, I think that's one major reason why screenwriting has never appealed to me.

Jodi MacArthur said...

Oh man! I know what you mean. I haven't seen that movie, but really I like Jeff Bridges.

Liane Spicer said...

Watched Hope Floats and found it moving despite the predictability. The music didn't hurt either. Always liked country music - much to the disgust of everyone else in my family.

We seem to thrive on predictability, needing constant reinforcement that at least in fiction everything works out the way it's supposed to. When I see an unpredictable movie - Closer, for example - I watch the faces around as the lights go on at the end, and generally they're not happy.