robertisenberg

The Role of a Lifetime: 3

In Uncategorized on June 25, 2010 at 3:34 pm

Photograph of Fred Betzner, writer, actor and comedian.

Now, the Role of a Lifetime is back in earnest. In the past decade, we’ve seen a renaissance among Hollywood actors trying out serious dramatic films. As cinema, they’re pretty straightforward; directors don’t gussy-up these films with stunning landscapes and slick editing. Close-up shooting and handheld cameras are in vogue. Indie directors now let their actors act. And if there’s one thing critics love, it’s a broke, misguided, washed-up, booze-addled drop-out who is struggling to even survive, much less find something like happiness.

When Love Liza opens, Joel’s wife has just killed herself. Joel tries everything – vacation, a new job, model airplanes, an awkward date – but the only habit that kills the pain is huffing gasoline. In the end, Joel walks away from his house (which is burning to the ground), wearing only a pair of briefs. As Americans, we’re trained to believe that Joel’s life will improve, but it doesn’t; after two hours of despair and chemical addiction, Joel ends up with even less than he had. Phillip Seymour Hoffman won a host of accolades for Love Liza, and deservedly so: Joel rides a rollercoaster of emotions, until his life ends in oblivion.

While Love Liza is particularly bleak, this kind of story has become very popular. In Sherrybaby, Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a paroled heroin addict who is barely allowed to see her own daughter. She was molested as a child (by her father), she sleeps with strangers, she picks fights with her halfway-housemates, and sexual favors are her only means of getting a job. Juxtapose this with Crazy Heart, where Jeff Bridges is a once-famous Country singer, now broke, alcoholic, and playing tired old songs in southwestern dive-bars. It’s only when he loses his girlfriend’s son at the mall that “Bad Blake” decides to clean up, but by then it’s basically too late.

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