Last Sunday, Jeff Bridges won an Oscar for his performance as Bad Blake, an ageing country-and-western star, in Crazy Heart. For me, about three-quarters into the film, which has a good soundtrack and some fine acting, I got the sinking feeling that I’d been tricked. A pretty good movie had turned into a grating sermon.
Most movies about musicians show them trying to deal with pressures through booze and drugs, and inevitably self-destructing. But my own experience as a touring musician for 30 years is that while I’ve seen a few burnouts, they’re a small minority. The smart ones quit their destructive habits - or quit touring. The even smarter ones learn how to pace themselves, and still have a good time. Watching Bad Blake chain-smoke and swill whisky, though, I would have bet any money that Hollywood wasn’t going to let him out of this movie alive.
For a while, things start looking up for Bad. He meets Jean, a rather implausibly young and attractive woman with a cute little son called Buddy. Will Bad be true to his name and blow it? Well, he almost does, when he drives his car off the road and wakes up in hospital. This is the moment of reckoning. His broken ankle will heal, the doctor says, but if he doesn’t stop smoking and drinking and lose 25 pounds, he will soon die from cancer, emphysema, a stroke, or all three.
Bad then leaves the hospital and promptly goes back on the sauce. I watched the film in New York, and there were audible groans as he lit a cigarette. I wanted to cheer, which I guess shows me up as an irredeemable degenerate. I apologise: it was becoming clear, at this point in the movie, that Bad was an alcoholic, and I know very well that an alcoholic is not a good thing to be. I know this because I’ve known a few alcoholics.
So Bad has been warned, but will not listen. And here comes the thunderbolt. Bad is trusted to take his girlfriend’s son out for the afternoon, but while he’s ordering a drink, the kid wanders off.