Jeff Bridges shines, sings, and pukes as Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, the film that will win him his first Oscar. I saw the film a bit later than I would have liked to, but was not disappointed. The only films from 2009 I enjoyed more were Inglourious Basterds and The Hurt Locker, which are now Best Picture and Director contenders at the 82nd Academy Awards. This film, unfortunately, is not, and I'll go on the record in saying it's been snubbed, especially considering The Blind Side somehow got a nod.
Set against the evening redness of the American Southwest, the movie takes us through the bowling alleys, motels, and bars that make up Bad's life and eventually lead him to Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a journalist who makes him realize he's after more than just the next bottle of McClure's Whiskey.
Crazy Heart is far from uncharted territory. It's a story we've seen before, most recently last year in The Wrestler. The ways in which the two films parallel each other are worth mentioning: both are about formerly well-known, now washed-up performers in somewhat marginalized industries; both have redemptive aspects; both films are carried by their central performance, with strong help from their female leads. (In fact, both leads from both films received Oscar nominations for their performances. Bridges will win where Mickey Rourke should have.)
But Crazy Heart is pleasantly surprising in how funny it is, as well as how understated its requisite somber scenes are. Writer/director Scott Cooper was wise in not making these segments the focus of the movie — instead, he lets the narrative center almost exclusively around Bad. This is a man who leaves the stage in the middle of a song to vomit into a trashcan outside a bowling alley, only to return moments later; who has an estranged son he hasn't spoken to or seen in over 20 years; who laments that his songs come from "life, unfortunately." And yet he is instantly likeable. Again, this has much to do with the film's sense of humor, as well as Bridges' natural charm, which comes across clearly in the character of Bad Blake.
Bridges' performance — as well as Maggie Gyllenhaal's — more than make up for the film's weaknesses. There are subplots involving Bad's previously mentioned son, as well as residual bitterness regarding a younger, more successful country singer named Tommy Sweet (played surprisingly well by Colin Farrell, who, like Bridges, does his own singing). Neither of these storylines go far or matter much, but you're having too good a time watching Bad be himself to care.