Crazy Heart (2009)

Rated R. Our ratings: V-3 ; L-3 ; S/N- 5. Running time:1 hour 52 min.

But when he came to himself…”
Luke 15:17a

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. 8 If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.
Galatians 6:7-8

C-W singer Bad Blake gives his crazy heart to reporter Jean.

2009 Fox Searchlight Films

Although the story of a down on his luck Country Western singer is very familiar to film fans, espe cially to those of us who love Tender Mercies, director Scott Cooper, adapting the novel by Thomas Cobb, and a talented cast make the old story fresh and engaging. Actor Jeff Daniels, always interesting in whatever role he plays, becomes the boozing, whoring Bad Blake. He has just the right tired walk and grizzled look (like an aged Kris Kristofferson), and even his voice sounds authentically like that of a whiskey soaked performer struggling to hold on to a shred of his faded glory.

Once a C-W icon, Bad’s hard living, true to his stage name, has caught up with him. Although people recognize and want to meet him, his drunken binges have now relegated him to playing with pick-up bands at New Mexican bowling alleys and bars. Almost broke, and refused a tab at the bowling alley bar (but he can have all the free games he wants, the proprietor tells him), Blake’s desperate need for a bottle of whiskey is fed by the liquor store owner who makes the bottle a gift because he is a fan. That night during his performance, Bad has to leave the stage and vomit in the alley because of his day of drinking alone in his motel room. Fishing his fallen sunglasses from the refuse can, he staggers back to rejoin the band that had been covering for him. His aging, adoring fans seem to accept his absence without criticism.

The film acquires its name from its theme song, “The Weary Kind” written by Ryan Bingham. Sort of a confessional, the song includes a couplet that is repeated several times, “Pick up your crazy heart/And give it one more chance.” This he does when he obliges the owner of the Santa Fe bar he is playing in and agrees to allow the man’s niece to interview him for her newspaper. Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is obviously a fan, but she has been burned by men in two past romances, so she is resistant to Bad’s advances. He is so accustomed to being able to pick up a groupie (after Jean leaves, he calls one who had slipped him her telephone number), that he is intrigued. Upon a second meeting, and after he charms her four year-old son Buddy, Jean gives in to him, and their night of passion develops into a relationship, one that has to be conducted over the phone while they are separated by his travels.

The viewers’ romantic side wants this relationship to work, as it did in Tender Mercies, but we know that Bad’s failure to deal with his alcoholism lurks like a crouching dragon, waiting to pounce. The scenes in which he is alone at times with Buddy are tender, but filled with a nervous tension for viewers, fearful that he will screw up. There is hope that he will change when, on his way back to Santa Fe to be with Jean and Buddy, Bad succumbs to the effects of his drinking and crashes his van. In the hospital the doctor bluntly tells him that he is an alcoholic and that he needs to lose weight. But is labeling the source of his troubles enough?

Adding to the power of the film are performances by Colin Farrell as Tommy Sweet and Robert Duvall (who won his first Oscar for his playing a similar character) as Bad’s longtime friend Wayne. Because of his strong resistance to the offer to open for the popular Tommy, we expect that Bad’s former backup singer to be the villain. His agent, knowing his client all too well, persists until Bad, needing the money, agrees. Instead of the cheater climbing over his friends on the way to success, we see a man anxious to heal the rift between them. He even joins Bad on the stage to engage in a duet with him, one of the high points of the film (Farrell has a hitherto unknown talent for singing). Although Bad tells him he has no songs to sell him, the two part reconciled, and with the possibility of a future recording date.

Duvall’s character runs a bar in Bad’s hometown of Houston, but dispenses good advice instead of drinks to his friend. He arranges for Bad to enter a rehabilitation clinic, and later tells him, “as one who has been there,” that even though he is dried out, times are going to be rough for him. This latter portion seems a bit truncated: perhaps a few more scenes of Bad at the clinic and struggling to withstand the temptation to drink would have rounded out this section better.

The excellent music, some of it by T-Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton and other songs C-W classics, also lifts the film above its clichéd plot, each song adding to our understanding of Bad. His rendition of “Falling and Flying” shows that he understands the downward spiral of his life and career with its chorus, “Funny how fallin’ feels like flyin’/for a little while/funny how fallin’ feels like flyin’for a little while.” There is even the line “if there is such a thing as too much fun/this must be the price you pay.” Yes, there is “a price to pay,” as Scriptures remind us, even when one turns one’s life around ( “metanoia” anyone?), there are still consequences which must be borne. That Bad seems to understand this leaves us with a great sense of hope for him, and for others like him as well.

For Reflection/Discussion

Spoilers at the end.

1. What do you think of Bad Blake when you first meet him? How is his life a good example of what the apostle Paul meant in the Galatians passage?

2. Bad has been accustomed to one-night stands with women: why do you think he sees Jean in a different light? How does the phrase “crazy heart” contribute to the film? In what ways are our hearts “crazy” ?

3. How does the way in which Bad relates to Buddy show a different, more tender, side of him? Although it might have started out as a way of getting closer to Jean, what did you see That might make you think it grew into something deeper? Maybe related to what we learn later, that he also has a son, but one that he has not been in contact with for almost twenty years?

4. How does Tommy Sweet turn out to be different from what we had been led to believe by Bad’s comments concerning him? How is his joining Bad on stage his attempt at reconciliation? Have their been such people in your past with whom you have needed reconciliation? How did the passage of years give you a different perspective on your differences or wrongs, imaginary or real?

5. Blake has finally had someone call him on his drinking while he is in the hospital, but does he follow up on the doctor’s orders? How is the incident with Buddy the moment in which he comes “to himself” ?

6. From the brief segment in the group therapy session, in what ways is Bad coming to himself? No evasion or dishonesty is there. This is a very brief segment: do you think another scene or two might have been beneficial, perhaps showing better what a struggle he is going through?

7. What short sequence visually tells us that Bad is in earnest about cleaning up his life (pardon the pun)?

8. What do you think of Bad’s attempt to call and reconcile with his son? How does Bad react to this failure, and how does this show him arriving at a new maturity? In what ways is Robert Duvall’s character the kind of friend that Bad needs?

9. Compare the story to that of Mack’s in Tender Mercies
. (If you have not seen this little gem of a film, you owe it to yourself to do so as soon as possible!) Note the similarities, but also the difference in the endings. At what moments do you believe that God is at work in the story? How is the bittersweet ending just the right touch? What do you think he will do after his generous gift?

10. The words of the songs in this film are very integral to the story. Several of them could be the basis of a good discussion. To read them go to: http://www.stardusttrailers.com/news_soundtrack.php?id=80