Thursday, July 09, 2009

"Duane Hopwood" (2005) - Movie Review

Often people forget the real actors behind their typecast TV sitcom stars. It takes a breathtaking change to get over that and see them as a different personalities. Take them a little more serious. “Friends” success bit the back of the stars in it as they wanted to further their career elsewhere. Some did few bits and the most successful would be Jennifer Aniston. If someone that got really shadowed by that sitcom, that would be David Schwimmer and “Duane Hopwood” is a film which tells that he is a terrific actor.

Here as the titular character he embodies a man spiraling towards the rock bottom. Duane Hopwood is a great guy, a great husband and a great father. He drinks, and he hates to be called “drunk”. He works as one of the casino managers and his shift is from 3 to 12. When the sun hits the top, it is a leisurely evening for him when the rest of the city lunches. It is time to shoot a couple. That has got him divorced. When the movie begins, we see him driving drunk. He is stopped by a cop he knows. The cop knows Hopwood as a person than a drunk and offers a ride back. Duane is not able to stand still and he reaches back seat. There is his daughter sleeping and that is his ticket to fall.

Duane is a reasonable man pushed to the emotional cliff. What hurts most to him is that the distress spot he is in has nothing but himself to blame. He cannot get his arms around that fact. Not that he does not know but he cannot get it sinked in. Rationality is long sedated by his emotions, self pity and booze, of course. He loves his kids and this irresponsible act revokes his license and in the dawn of a cold winter in November, he is put to ride a bike to work. He gets all the more reason to hate his position.

Writer and Director Matt Mulhern gets the man right and his friends and family more perfect. His ex-wife Linda (Janeane Garofalo) does not want to do this to him but she needs to act as a mother too. Here the civilized conversations are not customary but out of concern. Duane loves her and she is battling her emotions inside. It is while painful for Duane to watch her go out with another man, she cannot bear the sight of the man she once loved to witness that.

Films such as this takes sides and even in the unreasonable reactions of its main personality, there is an unexpected characteristics of justifying it. In “Duane Hopwood”, we see both sides. He is run over by the tragedies of life continuously and in it he begins to become this flight risk of violent behaviour. He is frustrated by the falling relationships and he flips out. It causes further turmoil.

It is not a story of self pity. It is a story of one man’s journey persistently being sucked in to the underneaths of the isolation and holding of life. It is sad because the bond which gets broken is not a natural process but a self inflicted pain. We see him in his rough ride. The film opens with him being the happy husband and dad. We also see him going to the bars and coming back with the SUV cross parked. This side of a person is unpredictable and the addictive behaviour only makes him even more on the edge.

His friends and neighbours care for him and know the good man inside. His colleague Anthony (Judah Friedlander) is loud and persists to be Duane’s room mate. He wants to be an actor but steps up for a stand up comic. He likes Duane and does not sympathize but understands. Even when Duane loses the patience with the man, he is forgiving in his own way. There is Fred (Dick Cavett) and Wally (Bill Buell) his old neighbours inviting him for the thanksgiving dinner and try to do what they can. There is Duane’s regular bar waitress (Susan Lynch) knowing the man. All these people including Linda suffers a lot more than Duane because they know the best in him. Duane is angry at himself but his expression of it only results in further incidents.

When the film started and the first time we hear Duane speak is when he is stumbling for complete words. And we do not see the sorry faced sitcom hero, we see an irresponsible adult. Then we see how he can be, good and likable. A very good husband and an affectionate father wondering where the life he once had. In his sitcom role, Schwimmer has been the sympathetic geek (becoming a little too boring though as the seasons began to pile) and never needed any kind of extra work to get that from his audience. Here he portrays something simple as it sounds in a layer of practicality and understanding of this person. I am not comparing the roles, but amazed by the shift this actor can do and little sad on how he cannot been seen more often in character roles.

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