While watching Duane Hopwood on Thursday, I thought again, "Thank God, this one was overlooked." But as in Man Push Cart, I revised my initial impressions somewhat more favorably after I heard the discussion about the movie afterwards.
David Schwimmer, who apparently is a popular television actor but of whom I had never heard because I have never watched the television series, Friends, plays Duane Hopwood, a young father who loses his family because of his alcoholism, loses his job because of bad luck and yet remains a likable loser whom you assume is going to rebound.
The movie opened in five markets, not including Los Angeles and New York,but then in a series of what Roger Ebert called "bad decisions," but which I call "smart decisions," was never given a full theatrical release. Although the projection at the Ebertfest is usually impeccable,this showing was marred by a series of unbearably loud buzzings, which I assume was the fault of the equipment but was never explained.
Matt Mulhern, the writer and director, was interviewed by Ebert afterwards and said the movie was inspired by many Duanes with whom he grew up in New Jersey. They are likable losers who get up in the middle of the night, go to work in the casinos, get off work in the middle of the day and then start drinking. The jobs are well paying and Mulhern does not intend the movie to be anti-casino, or even anti-alcoholic, as much as a slice of life.
A slice of life is fine if it has a little spice but this was too bland for my taste. Mulhern said that he tried to make a low-keyed movie, unlike most modern movies in which one gets the feeling that the writer thinks of the most outrageous thing his character could do in the situation. Mulhern said he wants to find the beauty and poetry of life in ordinariness. I admire the sentiment; I just don't think he carried it off.
I was particularly put off by the happy ending, with both Duane and his ex-wife suddenly being shown at Thanksgiving dinners reflecting a hopeful future which is not a logical progression of what we have seen before. I take it from Mulhern's comments that he wrote the script with honesty and that this was not a case of a studio suit telling him the movie was too depressing and to tack a happy ending onto the end of it. But the ending felt like that had happened.
I was going to give the movie two stars out of five, but the after-viewing discussion swayed me to raise my rating to three for the good effort.