Starring: Sam Elliot, Laura Prepon, Nick Offerman, Krysten Ritter
Directed By: Brett Haley
Plot: Lee Hayden (Elliot) is an aging movie star who finds out that he has cancer, and struggles with his own mortality. He doesn’t know how to repair his relationship with his estranged daughter (Ritter), but ends up finding an unexpected romance (Prepon) that even he can’t understand.
What Works: Sam Elliot is incredible. If there’s one reason to watch this film, it’s because Sam Elliot deserves your attention. Elliot has long been a fantastic character actor, underrated for his entire career. Finally, a film comes along that really gives him the opportunity to put his lasting stamp on his career. I hear that Haley wrote the film specifically for Elliot after working with him on I’ll See You In My Dreams, and this very much feels like a film tailor-made for Elliot. I couldn’t imagine another actor in this film. The film doesn’t even give him that much to work with, but even when he’s given nothing except silence, he does such an amazing job. There’s this scene in the film where he’s reading a side for an audition that will just cut to your core as a person. I actually had no idea Elliot was this good. He deserves an Oscar nomination. He’s never been nominated. Now’s the time. I will say, I also really enjoyed how they handled the May/December relationship between Elliot and Prepon. Sometimes, that age gap can feel gooey, but here it felt organic. It didn’t really try to woo you in romantically, but just strived for your acceptance, much like the relationship between Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart. Two souls who find each other, and it’s really not about age. He’s not looking for a young hot thing, and it’s not creepy. He’s fully aware of how old she is, but there’s still something about her as a person that he’s drawn to. I think that’s what makes this work so well.
What Doesn’t Work: The film can often feel directionless, which I think is intended, to mirror how Lee is feeling. Sometimes, nothing major is happening. I also think they intentionally kept Ritter from us, for the same reason. She’s estranged, and we’re supposed to know very little about her. Unfortunately, that didn’t work for me either, because when it comes time for the emotional impact scene, I didn’t really care, because I knew so little about Ritter’s character. I think there needed to be another scene between the two of them before that. She’s only in two scenes with Elliot, and it softens the emotional impact a bit.
Final Word: A mostly great film with a fantastic lead performance. It does seem to meander at times, and there is such a focus on Elliot’s character that the supporting characters can get lost a bit, but this really is one of those films that is made because of the lead performance. You’re watching this film because you like Sam Elliot, and this film will make you love Sam Elliot.
Final Grade: B+