Universally applauded. Critically acclaimed. Totally boring.
WHA-? Yes, that's right. I didn't enjoy Brokeback Mountain. I was bored to the point of looking away from the screen and wishing for it to be over. Now, I know what this admission means: 1) I am obviously a heartless bitch; 2) I will be hearing howls crying foul from those who've raved about it.
Before I launch into my tirade, let me say that 90% of the people who see this film will sing its praises and shed its tears. I know I've been a little too hard to please at the theater of late. Plus, when you consider all the dreck that's playing at cinemas, this film does rise to the top.
The acting was terrific. Jake and Heath make their characters believable, likeable and sympathetic. Although the critics seem to have more of a hankering for Heath's gutteral, Cooper-esque stylings, I think it's Jake who showed himself to be more of a master of his craft. My friend C-girl and I agreed that while Jake's face registers few changes in expression, he is somehow able to convey the subtlest of emotions. And he's gorgeous, which is neither here nor there, but a plus in the movie's appeal column, fo'sho. Some stand-out moments? Their desperate kisses outside Heath's over-the-laundromat apartment. Their tender post-romp hotel conversation. This, I liked. This, I wanted more of.
All of the dialogue between Jake and Heath feels real and right, as sparse as it is. It is their moments that make the movie. Unfortunately, those moments only comprise about 50% of the film. The rest is riddled with redundant and cartoonish side stories about obnoxious, one-dimensional girlfriends, wives, children and parents. Sure, some of that is necessary to convey their long lapses apart and to illustrate how much the odds were against a gay couple in the 60s and 70s. But you know what? All that societal stuff is common knowledge. We don't need it to be hammered home over and over in the fleeting two hours we've got to share with Jake and Heath. We understand the hardships and prejudices they faced. Let's get to the love between these men and linger with it a little longer.
Isn't that why the film is really being celebrated? Because it sensitively portrays homosexual love in a major motion picture? I admit, the sophisticated soap opera way this story is told will make it more palatable to a bigger audience, which will translate to bigger box office and more opportunities for future well-crafted gay love stories. For that reason, I see that it might have been for the best that Ang Lee helmed it and Larry McMurty co-wrote. But something tells me it would've been more of a cinematic masterpiece versus easily embraceable entertainment if Gus Van Sant had manned the director's chair and Tony Kushner had scripted it.
Here's the thing. The movie I anticipated in my mind did not appear on the screen. I know it's not really fair to review the movie that I think should have been made versus the one that was. But if you would have seen the movie in my mind, I think you would've preferred my director's cut, too.
My Brokeback would have had a heartfelt romance that grew slowly, but surely, in momentum and significance as the men grew to know each other and we grew to know them. A heart-wrenching romance that took place against the backdrop of utterly breathtaking wilderness--the kind that makes reviewers describe the landscape as another lead character. A bittersweet romance that was lovingly filmed with luscious cinematography. Lots of dramatically composed long shots with just the men and their mountain.
Now, I know a lot of people might feel like they saw all that on the screen. I didn't. What I saw was a TV mini-series chopped down to a two-hour mish-mash of a family drama. Sloppy storytelling. Lifeless lighting. Hamhanded editing.
Speaking of the editing, I'm no film school graduate, but there were some cuts in the film that were whiplash-inducing. A couple of cuts that stuck out like sore thumbs: 1) Heath stumbling out of a tent to a beautiful overcast, snow-shrouded scene. It was on the screen for about five seconds, then we cut to a shot of Jake returning to camp (in full sun with only wee patches of snow on the ground) saying something about how the snow had melted quickly. WHA-? Why did we need the snow moment? We'd already seen that they were fighting the elements. At least let us linger in the snow scene. Let something happen in the snow scene. Otherwise it looks like a mistake. In another scene, we see Heath driving away and cut to a scene of him looking out a second-story window. For a second it felt like he was looking at himself drive away. WHA-? I'm sure the editors on this film have a trailer full of awards, which makes these jarring choices all the more annoying.
The sloppy storytelling was my main complaint with the film. There was no narrative momentum. I guess you could argue that since the story takes place over 20 years, it would be hard to keep momentum building. I disagree. Sure, there will be lulls, but there were so many side trips in this film that I lost interest in rooting for the two lads. Sure, we need to see them deal with their "off the mountain" lives, but there was just too dang much of it. Side story after side story that ate up screen time while only reiterating things we already knew about the characters. The tangent about the barmaid that Heath dates took about 20 minutes to unfold, when she could've easily been relegated to a line of expository dialogue. Ang, baby, we know Heath is a stoic fella with commitment issues. We get it. Let's see how that affects him and Jake, please. PLEASE?
I know, I know. I'm ranting now. But the only reason I'm so pissed and continue to blather about it is that I care so much and expected so much from this film.
In summary, I appreciate the will it took to make this movie. I just wish it had had more grace.