Dir.: David Gordon Green; Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson; USA 2017, 116 min.
Features based on true-life stories, particularly when terrorism is concerned, usually turn out to be questionable. But director David Gordon Green (Prince Avalanche) has plumbed new depths with the story of Jeff Baumann, who lost his legs in the terrorist attack during the Boston marathon in 2013.
Baumann (played by the film’s producer Gyllenhaal,) is a charmer, but a bum. He has split up with his girlfriend Erin (Maslany) for the third time, and after leaving work early to watch a Red Sox game, he knows that he has to it make up to her. So he promises to support her marathon run with a placard. Erin suspects that this will be the usual botched effort, but for once Jeff is on time – but in the wrong place. His efforts turn into a fight between Erin and his mother (Richardson), the alcoholic matriarch of a family of lazy underachievers. Only after Erin gets pregnant (we have to endure sex with violins playing), does mother give in: she delivers Jeff to Erin, complete with his artificial legs. But her middle class family refuse to tolerate sloppy underachievement.
On the positive side Jeff is shown around at sporting events just like a hero, and Green shows that this is an affront to Jeff’s sensibilities. But that’s about the only thing John Pollono gets right in his script based on Baumanm’s co-written memoir. Richardson is a caricature of a slovenly, over-protective mother, and the rest of the family are as one-dimensional in their drunken passivity, using the attention Jeff gets for endless selfie opportunities. Erin’s family are also stereotypical in their straightlaced lifestyle. Only once does STRONGER get behind the facade, when Jeff asks Erin: “why do you want me”. Sadly her martyrdom takes over again, and Jeff is literally delivered like a schoolboy from a bad home to the sanctity of proper discipline and achievement.
Green directs with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, DoP Sean Bobbitt keeps it simple with one to one realism and Michael Brook’s score is suited to the whole exercise with its sentimental meowing. AS
SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2017