Directed by David Gordon Green
Stronger tells the true story of Jeff Bauman and how he lost both his legs during the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Jeff was there to cheer on his on-and-off girlfriend Erin, who was running in the race. A flaky guy who still lives with his mother and works at Costco, Jeff finally decides to show up to something for Erin. However, this time, it costs him his legs. As Jeff recovers, the whole of Boston (and the world) wants to make Jeff out to be a hero. However, Jeff just wants to heal and to be left alone.
Honestly, Stronger just looked like a standard true story tearjerker movie. Yes, it's a true story about a very recent event but it didn't overly interest me. However, word was strong out of TIFF and it finished off with a 95% on RottenTomatoes. So because Ottawa was going through a heat wave at the end of September and I have no A/C (and movie theatres do), my husband and I decided to escape the heat and this was about all that was playing with good reviews.
Jake Gyllenhaal has been consistently putting out some really great work in the last few years. Nightcrawler and Nocturnal Animals were both great turns from him, but his work here in Stronger is much different than those gritty roles. Jeff is a witty and humorous guy who finds himself in a difficult situation. He's lost both his legs in a terrorist incident and now needs to figure out how to function living in an apartment with stairs and that isn't wheelchair friendly. Mostly he just wants to walk with his on-and-off-again girlfriend Erin. But Jeff is flaky and doesn't want to rely on other people and just generally pushes people away. It's a much more sensitive role for Jake recently and he's able to show a lot more vulnerability here. As expected, he really is fantastic in this role.
Tatiana Maslany on the other hand is also terrific. However, I felt she didn't actually have a lot to do. Mostly she was there to help Jake Gyllenhaal get into the car, or drive him to appointments and then had a few small scenes where she gives it to her unreliable boyfriend for being selfish and bitter and uncommitted. In those moments where she's actually got something to work with, she's fantastic. I mean, this is no surprise as Maslany is a great performer still looking to make a big break into film. However, my main complaint is that she just isn't given a whole lot of heavy lifting to do, which is extremely disappointing.
As well, can we give a shoutout to Miranda Richardson who is playing the classic Boston single-mom? And the fact that she played Rita Skeeter in Harry Potter and from looking at her in this role I would never ever guess that. She's spot on here and seems to really nail the Boston accent.
Aside from the good performances, the film itself also holds up well. While this is a bit of a tearjerker true story movie, it also doesn't get as caught up in making it's characters likeable or needing it's characters to triumph. As well, it was able to keep the R-rated language that seems to always trickle out of Bostonians and that itself made it feel much more authentic. David Gordon Green lets Jeff be selfish and flaky without needing us to think he's a saint. As well, Erin, in the midst of a huge fight, leaves Jeff in a car and goes into the apartment without him, leaving him to either stay in the car (which he doesn't) or crawl across the pavement, shouting so that someone will let him in once he reaches the door (which he does do). It's not a pretty scene and it even feels extremely harsh. But it felt real. This movie also doesn't seem to be overly interested in Jeff "triumphing" like most people do at the end of these true stories. But instead seems to be more interested in giving characters better perspective so that they may change eventually.
Stronger is a somewhat depressing way to spend an evening, but the film isn't without its humour. Jake Gyllenhaal does some great work here and is well supported by Tatiana Maslany and Miranda Richardson.