Believe me, I tried like the dickens to hold the screenwriters accountable, but, try as I might, I can’t pardon the Cloonz.
I’m really hoping that this is comedy’s year. The Oscars are slowly reflecting America’s fatigue of big, sweeping epics in favor of more detailed and experimental character studies (a result of our war weariness perhaps?), and in the last couple of years, little, well-made comedies have inched closer and closer to the forefront. Little Miss Sunshine was universally beloved, and Juno was so popular that it even caused its own backlash of Coldplay proportions (“How dare the mainstream recognize a movie I enjoyed?? It must not be as good as I remembered it to be!”). Could it be a 2008 comedy that will finally win Best Picture, indicating that a great movie doesn’t necessarily have to be a weighty one?
Oh no no no, I don’t mean Leatherheads. Heck no! Although I have to be honest, I did smile happily during the first half of the film, thinking, “Of course, it’ll be George Clooney who directs that lucky comedy that brings home the gold.” And you can’t really blame me. Leatherheads starts out so, so promising. Renee Zellweger is sassy, Jon Krasinski is adorable, and we all settle comfortably into our seats, anticipating Clooneyish delights galore.
And for awhile, all goes as planned. It even strikes a nice balance of being a sports movie without really involving too much actual sport, playing with the beginnings of professional football in a way that even blockheads like me can understand. And even blockheads like me get that the majority of the film’s jokes lie on the presumption that we all know pro football is now hugely popular, wildly flashy, and involves lots of rules. So there I am, listening to a Randy Newman score that is nostalgic of both the 1920s and the 1980s reenacting the 1920s,* thinking this could be the next The Natural or at the very least, A League of Their Own, when suddenly it’s 90 minutes later and I’m trying to keep myself awake by desperately attempting to figure out who is to blame for the boring, poorly written story that is dragging out interminably on the screen before me.
Believe me, I tried like the dickens to hold the screenwriters accountable (Duncan Brantley and Ricky Reilly). And to a large extent it is their fault for not tightening up their game, closing some loops, or their eerie punishment of characters that really don’t deserve it while awarding those that do. But, try as I might, I can’t pardon the Cloonz. A better director might have highlighted minute parts of the script that were necessary to beef up because of the information’s vital role in the second half or created more sympathy for those who win the day and less sympathy for those who don’t. That’s your job, Director Clooney.
How about some screentime devoted to the colorful characters within the team? Sure, that might be a tired gag, but it would have helped a chuckle escape our lips when we see some visual epilogues about them at the end. That said, I can’t let the actors off too easily. Chemistry fizzles out, Krasinski’s puppy eyes begin to grate on the nerves, and though she started out strong, Zellweger turns out to be far, far away from the Katharine Hepburn-like character she clearly aspires to play. I have a vague recollection that Clooney is supposed to be some kind of shady, lovable character, but all we ever really know about the grizzled Dodge Connelly is that he has a quick wit and really, really wants professional football to get off the ground.
All of these misfires and probably more cause Leatherheads to taper off in the second half into flat nothingness. I would list them, but I am blinded by stinging tears of disappointment. Stick to acting comedic roles in other directors’ films, George. Your directing talents are significant, it’s true**, but I’m not sure if I can handle another one of these…these incidents. If you’d like to make it up to me, I will be happy to get together for drinks later to discuss.
*As my date said while watching the sepia-toned photographs of the title sequence pan by to the tune of a jangly piano, “I feel like we’re watching an episode of Cheers.”
**Check out Good Night and Good Luck! For reals!