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I can't complain but sometimes I still do

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Thoughts on "Brokeback Mountain"

Probably the worst thing about living in a town that gets movies weeks or even months after they have been released in major cities is you end up reading a ton about a film before actually seeing it. And this inevitably builds expecations in your mind that often aren't met.

I think that's why "Brokeback Mountain" left me underwhelmed this weekend. Thumbs up vs. thumbs down, I'm going thumbs up, but it's a pretty weak thumb. I just expected more. Sure, I liked Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal (though the former's performance, I think, has been overrated while the latter has been underrated) and all those beautiful shots of wide open vistas had a lovely grandeur that harkens back to John Ford's classic westerns from the 1940 and 50s.


The story was thin. "Brokeback Mountain" is based on a short story Annie Proulx wrote for The New Yorker. At 135 minutes, the movie feels padded. Scenes where Jake and Heath chase each other around and wrestle with their shirts off start to get repetitve by the movie's midpoint. At 90 minutes, it would have been much tighter and more effective.

My biggest disappointment is that "Brokeback Mountain" ultimately is a very artfully made TV movie of the week that attempts to teach the audience that being gay is OK and middle Americans are evil for keeping them apart. I happen to agree 1,000 percent with a "being gay is OK" message, by the way, but when it comes to movies, I'm more interested in story than a lesson. And too often, "Brokeback Mountain" feels like one of those solemn social conscience movies designed to make liberals feel better about themselves at the expense of faceless rednecks who don't live on the coasts. (See also "American Beauty" and "Philadelphia.) Coincidentally, these movies almost always win Oscars.

I keep thinking about the movie "Brokeback Mountain" isn't rather than the movie it is. I would have loved to see a story about two individuals who fall into a doomed love affair that feels real and genuine. The lovers might happen to be gay, but their gayness isn't the issue. Rather, it would be all the other interpersonal stuff that dooms or saves every relationship. With the unique setting and characters, I think that could have been a beautiful, emotionally powerful film.

Instead, director Ang Lee plays things a little too broad. Whenever Jake and Heath aren't off in the Wyoming wilderness, they are saddled with dull wives, screaming kids and emascalating in-laws. The contrast in lifestyles isn't exactly subtle, and the one-dimensional roles written for Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway make heterosexual life look dire indeed. But the relationship between Jake and Heath is so idealized that it never feels real. That's why at the end, when tragedy (predictably) unfolds, the emotional payoff isn't quite there. At least not for me.

It was probably impossible to make a major studio film like this and not have the social implications on your mind. We just aren't at a place where you can make a movie about gay people where their sexual preference isn't the point of the movie. You probably need a bunch of movies like "Brokeback Mountain" to prepare audiences for that. Esquire movie writer Mike D'Angelo wrote an interesting piece where he said a truly subversive film would be a gay "Pretty Women," where two guys meet, fall in love and live happily ever after. But for now, apparently, we need our gay movie characters to be doomed.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"We just aren't at a place where you can make a movie about gay people where their sexual preference isn't the point of the movie."

i agree, all the "happily-ever-after" homosexual love stories seem to be limited to the indie world for the time being. a love story between two men should not be a big deal but sadly, in our country, it is. however, i think the fact that there was a maintstream movie about a relationship between two men that has been recieving so much recognition (whether or not it has a happily-ever-after) is a step forward. when it comes to anything a little outside the box, this country seems a little slow on the road to acceptance.

by the way, it's Michelle Williams;)


9:36 PM  
Blogger paul said...

Hey... please don't agree more than 100% with something... it hurts my math soul. Also, I assume you were saying Jake > Heath where a latter should have replaced a former.

My question: if you are already liberal on gay marriage, are you still morally required to see the gay cowboy movie?

9:40 PM  
Blogger ruby said...

my weekend went alright seeing as i spent most of it in my pajamas watching Scrubs (have you seen it? watch it). however, my week isnt starting out so great. i've been sort of sick lately and my mom thought that i was being poisoned by carbon monoxide (???) so i returned home this morning to find a fire truck with its lights on blocking my driveway and my mom in her labcoat looking determined. of course, nothing was wrong that involved carbon monoxide so it was extra awesome with a side of fantasmoe when the firemen were asking me about what kind of stomach aches i got.

phlemy cougher, eh? yeah the audience was ok for me except i went with two friends, one who made comments like "love him!" whenever he saw someone along the tasty lines and the other is the girl who has 'the laugh' in the theaters that's funny but makes everyone else look at you and wonder why she's laughing so hard at sheep.

anyway.. was your weekend alright as well?

10:29 AM  
Anonymous KBL said...

I enjoyed the movie, but agree that Ledger's performance is a bit overrated. To be honest, I was profoundly reminded of Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade, and kept on waiting for Heath to say "I love you, boy" to Jake and then ask for some fries with mustard.

1:57 PM  

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