Stronger is better than most biopic as it captures realism and humanity
America’s obsession with heroism often leads to big droopy biopics that inaccurately present the person just to fluff up his or her life. For years, this formula has worked bringing in people of all ages to the theatres. However, in all of this nonsense, we manage to lose the essence of how and why people become such heroes and how their lives are impacted by sensationalism. Stronger, David Gordon Green’s latest drama, doesn’t transform Jeff Bauman into a flawless superhero. Instead, Green manages to make something real putting his humanity on full display.
After losing both his legs during the Boston Marathon Bombings, Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany) are trying to adjust to their new reality. With his life filled with flashing lights and TV appearances, his family becomes obsessed while his relationships around him start crumbling. Faced with the fact that he never chose this life, he must find a way to reconcile with it.
Stronger‘s angle is much deeper and reflective than other biopics. Green could have simply done another typical biopic flaunting Bauman’s painful journey to recovery before showing the great prevail in the end. However, it’s not what Green’s interested in doing. He focuses on the reality of accidental fame, where being caught in a great catastrophe changes your life. Jeff’s transition from Costco worker to the first pitcher at a Red Sox’s game leaves him confused and unprepared for the life he’s about to live. Now, his life involves total strangers approaching him for pictures, constant sad stories, and even conspiracy theories.
It’s always a difficult task for an actor to play a real-life person but Jake Gyllenhaal finds a way to become that very character. His performance always seems studious and very meticulous never coming off unlikable. Jumping from the trauma of losing his legs to seeing the effects it has on his relationships, especially with his girlfriend, he doesn’t always do the right thing. There are plenty of intimate moments between the characters which aren’t always easy to do. Yet, Gyllenhaal and Maslany work well together bouncing on each for support. Even as the film’s attention is on Gyllenhaal, it still gives time for Maslany to deliver a breakout performance on the big screen but this shouldn’t be a surprise for Orphan Black fans.
With subject matter such as this, it wouldn’t have been hard for Green to plunge into hardcore patriotism and sensationalism. Cleverly, Green subverts these traditional biopic themes. Unlike Patriots Day earlier this year, Stronger is a film about the effects of sensationalism and not a sensational film. The film isn’t interested in depicting an all American lovable guy. Jeff has his fair share of flaws as well as the people around him. He drinks a little too much, and he isn’t always on board for his rehabilitation. It tries as much as it can to keep Hollywood elements out of the film, and although, it does sometimes sneak in, it’s relatively minimal. Even with the film’s patriotism, it keeps it to a reasonable level, and the film is better for it. It finds ways to celebrate Boston and America as a societal celebration not in a narcissistic manner.
As different and realistic as it may be, Stronger can’t help but tung on your heart strings a little too much. Green builds scene after scene using minimal music and simple cinematography. Often he builds on each scene showing characters crying or fighting and while it may be real events, the way the director chooses to frame it seem overwhelming at times. These moments often showcase the actors’ performances, but it sometimes feels manipulative, which keep it from packing the right amount of emotional punch. However, that doesn’t stop the film from over-relying on emotion leaving us quite drained by the end to a point where the film seems to drag.
Better without all of the fluff, Stronger‘s powerhouse performance by Gyllenhaal and Maslany as well as its exploration of sensationalism makes this biopic a real winner. Its effort to subvert typical biopic tropes and dodge Hollywood elements should be commended even though it lets out a couple of Freudian slips. Green over-relies a bit too much on emotions to sometimes manipulative effect. However, his interest in telling an accurate and human story is ultimately what leads Stronger safely through the finish line.
Stronger came out in theatres on September 22.