Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Review: The Good Heart

Wow ... people did not like this movie.

Roger Ebert's review is hilarious, because he plain and simply despised "The Good Heart" so much, it made me laugh out loud reading it. I agree with Mr. Ebert's reviews, I'd have to say, 90 percent of the time, so it's always a surprise when we differ in opinion.

But funny things happen when you see a movie at just the right time or when you are in the right mood. And I have to tell you -- brace yourself -- I actually liked it, despite everyone's apparent loathing.

In short, Brian Cox plays one of the most unlikeable characters you'll meet in Jacques, the owner of a dive bar in New York City -- The House of Oysters (it doesn't serve oysters anymore, just booze and coffee, but he doesn't change the name of the bar because, well, you can't change the name of a bar, according to Jacques). It's so dingy you can almost smell it.

But my fondness for "dive bars" in general probably gave this movie more points than others awarded it, because I thought that place was great. It was so small, it could barely fit 13 people, which Jacques says is the maximum amount you should have in a bar. Yes, he has a lot of head-scratching rules -- No women, no walk-ins, a bartender should be familiar, not friendly, champagne is only for celebrating major sports victories etc ... It has a cool player piano as well, and a worthy mascot, a German Shepherd that goes everywhere with Jacques, and even sits at the bar with the regulars.

Brian Cox (Magnolia Pictures)
Jacques has another problem other than being a curmudgeon. He has a bad ticker and suffers his fifth heart attack. Yes, Jacques' German Shepherd even accompanies him to the hospital, following his master's gurney with hospital slippers on all four paws. At the same time, a homeless kid named Lucas (Paul Dano), who lives under a bridge, tries to commit suicide, winds up in Jacques' hospital room, and the two forge some semblance of a relationship.

Jacques starts to think about his mortality, and decides he'll take Lucas in and teach him the ways of bar ownership with the goal of passing the bar along to him after he dies. It starts to become evident that Jacques will probably learn a bit more from Lucas, and there are some dramatic, quirky and humorous scenes between the two.

At this point, the movie has gotten so gritty and you're wallowing in the depression and angst and coldness of Jacques (What the hell happened in his past that made him so bitter anyway?), and the loneliness and darkness of the bar and the regulars, that you feel the need to open the window and let some fresh air in.

Enter April (Isild Le Besco) -- a most fitting name, no? Finally having a female in this movie was a welcome sight indeed. She is a French stewardess with her own amusing sob story who enters the bar out of the rain and, well, throws a wrench into Jacques' plans.

I do have to say, the ending is completely nutso. Unfortunately, there was a scene earlier that kind of set it up and ruined a bit of the shock for me, but even as the ending develops and the movie wraps itself up, the cynic in me started crying foul about how unbelievably unfair the whole thing is.

Isild Le Besco and Paul Dano (Magnolia Pictures)
But, like the House of Oysters, you have to try and let a little fresh air in, a little optimism, and understand what the ending suggests, as hard as that may be and as far-fetched as it is.

I took it as a cautionary tale, one I was glad to see when I am still relatively young rather than too old and bitter to see any point in making any changes in my life -- not unlike "A Christmas Carol." This life is really nothing unless we open ourselves up and share it with others ... and try to put people ahead of ourselves once in a while.

Some of us are here for just a brief moment, others for a longer spell, and there's no explanation for it, so we should not waste these opportunities we have while we're here to make meaningful connections. Because we can be "pressed into service" at any time, no matter how young or old we are, and no matter whether it's fair or not.

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