True Grit seems like the first time the iconic Brothers Coen have delved into real, tried-and-true family filmmaking – and, for a while, it seems like they’ve settled themselves nicely into the old-Hollywood Western genre, adapting their aesthetic and style of implicit, formal irony and careful attention to the cultural idiosyncrasies that define a place and time to a style of Western that seems like it was a bit less cynical, and just the tiniest bit more heroic. And, even the film’s score fills this out – broad, evenly triumphant horns play in the background as Mattie Ross and her horse make their way across the rushing river, and when Jeff Bridges brilliantly-portrayed Rooster Cogburn rushes full-stop at the line of marauders ahead of him, yelling out in a voice like drunken thunder “Fill your hands, you sonovabitch!” But, every so often, a bit of stark, sudden violence will break through – during the shack sequence, severed fingers are cut loose on the wooden table-top, and a head-shot the leaves a trail of blood down to the floor. It’s a tight-rope balance the Coens are trying to achieve, and for the most part, it comes off wonderfully. Simple and plain, it’s a rousing old bit of blood and thunder, really.
I went through a pretty bad break-up recently – it’s been two and a half months, and it only lasted about just as long, but it did hit me astonishingly and surprisingly hard. Before anything else, she was a friend – one of my closest – and, now she isn’t even that, it seems like. There’s a hole in my wall as a testament to this, where I put my fist through, that I haven’t fixed up yet. In any case, all through this, it seemed like my experiences with this girl were capped off by two movies in particular that, at any given moment considering how high or low I was feeling, seemed to just encapsulate perfectly what the two of us were going through. The first I’d only seen when the two of us really started to get into each other – feeling each other out, trading stories about our exes, and that was Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. In a future post, I’m going to delve more into this movie’s bounding, leaping formalist aesthetics, which really knocked me off my feet, but more than any other film I’ve seen in a long while, this is a movie that captures so perfectly the almost cartoony exaggerated exuberance that someone feels when they’ve met a significant other that they just can’t believe exists, and the eventual triumph over both of their faults and personal fallacies. And, there are aspects of it that are downright brave – the movie makes no bones about either of the central characters at the center of the film, or how just-plain-terrible they come off at the beginning. While it’s certainly more defined in the comic, which is stretched out over a period of like a year and which ends up placing more emphasis on the smaller moments than the set-pieces, the essential triumph of these characters is their resolution to accept themselves, and move forward instead of wallowing in and being defined by the abyss of their past relationships. It’s a very exagerrated, cartoony movie, without a doubt. But – and this runs through every single character, even Wallace Wells – at the same time, it’s something identifiable, and real. On the basest level, it has weight – it has “grit,” so to speak – because the essential emotional conflicts at the core of the film are things that are so honest, and yet represented in such a bombastic, colorful way that they’re reduced to a state of purity. And really, I can’t help but remember the end of this film without thinking of how we ended up watching it together one night, but not really watching it at all.
But, that was the one end of things – that was May in December, like Def would put it; we ended up breaking off and away from each other around the end of January, and by the time the beginning of February rolled around, I didn’t ever want to see Scott Pilgrim again. Ever. It was too optimistic. A new film had gained that special kind of relevancy – the one I’d rewatch, end over end, when I didn’t want to get up. And, at certain points it felt so emotionally familiar that it was actually kind of scary, at certain points. I had had these conversations with her – I had done these things with and for her, and I had had these exact, naive hopes, both of reconciliation and of what seemed like eventual, unending malaise in bed. I still have that last one just a little bit, actually – and this film, if you can’t tell by now, is Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer. And yeah, while the initial build up to their relationship and Tom’s boyishly naive excitement in the first half an hour or so feels about as truthful as the rest of the film, it didn’t really have as much potency for me as the real meat of it, and the decline. I mean, who hasn’t felt that same kind of giddy joy after that first night together, when you feel like grabbing everyone you know and even the ones you don’t on the street and pulling them into a wide, brimming dance? Maybe it’s because this is something identifiable among most guys – but, scene after scene, I had to bite my tongue, even though I was alone and watching this in my bed-room. The scene on the Ikea bed – we’d had that very same conversation, and just like Tom I went and rushed bull-headed into the rest of it without any kind of thought of the later consequences. And, later on in the movie, after they’ve come home when Tom’s face is pulped from a brush-up at the bar, and the conversation culminates with Tom screaming, “well – you’re not the only one who gets a say in this! And, I say we’re a couple, goddammit!” Yeah, that happened too, to the T. And, just like the movie, we didn’t last much longer after that, although our break-off was a fair bit messier, compounded by the immediate inclusion of another guy. But enough about that – Webb’s made a great, bouncing first film, avoiding by leaps and bounds most of the plagues of first-time directors, and emerging unscathed and spotless as one of my newer favorite filmatists. And, even though the soundtrack is purely folk and older alternative stuff, this is a movie of pure, visual shoe-gaze music. Emotion, constant emotion – conveyed through the faces of the two leads, neither powdered nor pulled, embracing with real abandon or standing still apart, looking each other in the eye and trying to hold back tears, on a park bench. Webb seems to know better than most how to convey that essential confusion one feels when someone who, well – was a person you’d grown to care for so strongly, and who had cared for you just as much it seemed like – turns around and reveals to you that the latter wasn’t really at all the case, and then tries to salvage some kind of friendship out of it. But, it doesn’t work that way. It’s not just a thing that happens – worlds seem to shake, and you can’t think of much anything else, for a long while.
We haven’t had our park bench scene yet, though. I don’t really think we will.