Don’t let Hollywood forget about you. Even if everyone else you knew already has.
Lee Hayden (Sam Elliott) is an aging Western icon with a golden voice, but in all honesty, his time in the spotlight seems to mostly be behind him. Nowadays, when he isn’t making money in voice-over roles for silly animated flicks, or for lame-o commercials, He spends his days reliving old glories and smoking too much weed with his former-co-star-turned-dealer, Jeremy (Nick Offerman). But he soon finds out that he’s got cancer and it’s not looking too pretty, so it comes time for him to put his life into order, think long and hard about the people he’s hurt, and those that he wants to continue on and love. So of course, around this time, he gets a new lease on life when he meets stand-up comic Charlotte (Laura Prepon), who, despite the obvious age-gap, decides to take him on as something of a mate and try hard to navigate through each of each other’s difficult lives. Meanwhile, Lee tries to connect with his estranged daughter, Lucy (Krysten Ritter), all while searching for one final role to cement his legacy.
“What sort of device is this?” (Okay, he’s not that old, but still)
Co-writer/director Brett Haley’s last movie (I’ll See You in My Dreams) was a surprise-winner for me. It not only gave the ridiculously underrated Blythe Danner the starring-role she was quite deserving of, but also offered something of a smart, low-key, humorous, and heartfelt look at aging, finding love again, and oh yeah, death. It wasn’t too deep that it was depressing, nor was it too funny and light that it could be cheesy – it was just somewhere in the middle and yeah, it worked wonders.
But for some reason, the Hero doesn’t quite work as well. It tries to discuss the same themes and ideas about aging, finding love again, and yes, death, but it sort of fumbles them all in a mess of a movie that doesn’t know where to go, what it wants to be about, or hell, how long it wants to go on for. Because even at just a little over an-hour-and-a-half, it still feels way too long, as if the script wrote just enough material for an hour, but the budget asked for a much longer movie, so of course, everything had to get more and more padded-out.
And also, yeah, Haley seems to have lost a bit of inspiration in the writing-department this time around, too.
But it’s not like the Hero doesn’t play around with some complex thoughts; the idea of aging in a business that has long forgotten about you, is still an interesting to watch, because it’s something that so clearly happens, whether it’s in Hollywood, or elsewhere. But the Hero seems to barely touch on this and instead, just be more about this old dude’s relationship with a ridiculously unrealistic character who could most definitely be classified as nothing more than “a type”. Not that Laura Prepon isn’t good in the role, or at least, doesn’t try, it’s just that she’s so obviously a conceit that writers make up on-the-fly, that listening to her recite poetry, literally, makes me gag.
A May-December romance in Hollywood? You don’t say!?!?
And honestly, she’s not the only type here, either.
Even in the lead role, Sam Elliott is most definitely playing himself, once again. Obviously though, this time, he’s got more to work with and yeah, he makes it worth the movie’s time and effort. He’s honest and sad when the movie asks for it and while he gave a better performance in a much smaller-role in Haley’s last movie, it’s still nice to see him get a leading-role, when there’s very few of them in his long, storied career.
But like I said, he’s still a type. Nick Offerman’s stoner-buddy, while heartfelt, is still used as the obviously straining comedic-sidekick who smokes pot and makes jokes about the old days; Krysten Ritter is the estranged daughter who hates her dad no matter what and reminded me far too much of Evan Rachel Wood’s ridiculously similar character in the Wrestler; and Elliot’s real-life wife, Katharine Ross, shows up as his character’s ex-wife and they have a few nice scenes together, but that’s it. There’s nothing more to them, or their relationship. What you see, is what you get, so don’t expect anything more.
Sort of like, ahem, this movie.
Consensus: Even with a solid performance from Elliott in a rare leading role, the Hero still feels like it’s scratching the surface of a very interesting premise that doesn’t get the opportunity to go further and deeper than what seems to be promised.
5 / 10
Long live Sam Elliott. Just not in this movie.
Photos Courtesy of: NPR, Deadline, Junk Host