NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MAINE
I imagine that I will always be at odds with my home state. I don’t mean any kind of physical odds; I’m certainly not going to up and tell Maine that its frequently dumbass nature pisses me off from time to time. I can claim, however falsely, to be smarter than it, but Maine will always be able to beat me up, and as long as you have that going for you, you’re gonna be fine. And Maine is gonna be fine.
I don’t give the people of Maine a lot of credit, so the fact that I don’t get much in return makes sense. I’m not trying to say that I’m this outcast, forever flailing my weak limbs against daily attacks by ruddy downeast natives, hurling homespun invective and little ceramic lighthouses at me while chewing mouthfuls of “steamers” and wearing tee-shirts with puffins on them. It’s just always felt like a struggle to comfortably insinuate myself into a stereotypical Maine crowd. I feel smarter than them because I can appreciate a movie that doesn’t necessarily feature someone farting after being kicked in the groin by a naked woman who then shoots them with an Uzi and they fall off a cliff and land on Shrek who responds with a leaden thinly-veiled Viagra reference, but the fact is, they can probably fix a car. They can probably build a house, or at least ably assist a crew in building one. Certainly they would know which tools would be most ideal for house construction, and would likely even know how to use these tools. They would have the tools already in their home, and would instantly know where to find them. Their KIDS can use these tools.
However much it sickens me to hear people in my office yak about what a good movie “Ghost Ridah” was, to look down on an entire population just because I occasionally perceive its members as having crappy taste is increasingly beginning to feel like anger for anger’s sake. Furthermore, I can’t always automatically assume that somebody’s a big Rob Schneider fan simply because they drop their r’s. Hell, British people drop their r’s, and I doubt many of them waited in line to see “The Benchwarmers”. But, again, probably some of them did, and why not? After a long day of dealing with co-workers and keeping your kids from killing each other and burning the house down, why shouldn’t Maine spend a couple hours relaxing and cackling at a silly man doing silly things? If they like it and they’re enjoying themselves, what’s wrong with it? I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it: it isn’t funny, and I don’t like it, so you shouldn’t laugh at it. You’re all stupid and you have bad taste. Ow! Hitting isn’t nice, Maine, stop it! Yuck, don’t throw those! You’re only pelting me with scallops because you’re jealous of my ability to appreciate independent film!
So what we learn then is hicks are never going to want to watch David Lynch movies, let alone calmly discuss them over sensibly-priced diner breakfasts, and I am never going to know how to fix a car or maintain a home or do anything fun or useful outside. It seems a fair enough trade.
This is all rolling around in my brain because we went to see “No Country for Old Men” last night. It’s a great movie, go ahead and go see it. As usual, I read way too many reviews online beforehand, not to mention read the book (and this is a rare case, I think, of a movie improving on the book), so I could only be so surprised. But it had been awhile since I finished the novel, so I’d forgotten enough that the movie caught me off guard a number of times. This is the jumpiest movie I’ve seen in some time. Real suspense, great dialogue, a quick part involving a dog that is definitely one of the most interesting and best chase scenes I’ve ever seen, and perfect acting. Javier Bardem is as good as you’ve been led to believe, probably a lock for Best Supporting Actor, but we were pleasantly surprised by Josh Brolin, who finally puts his seemingly expressionless face and monotonous delivery to good use, coming off as subtle as opposed to bland. I couldn’t believe I was actually rooting for Josh Brolin. Either he’s gotten better or he’s working with people who know what to do with him. In any event, it’s his best work since he played “Brand” in “The Goonies”, where again his sullen nature fit the mold of a gruffly dismissive older brother well.
Tommy Lee Jones is his usual reliable self, though I’m unused to seeing him this sad. It might be the best acting I’ve seen from him. Rather than just barking orders and ornery quips in a confidently stilted manner (though there’s a little of that, of course), much of the time he’s really scared and beaten-down. It certainly marks the first time that I’ve ever wanted to pat Tommy Lee Jones’ hand in a reassuring manner. Amiably rangeless Woody Harrelson plays himself, as usual, but it’s not like he isn’t good at it, and there’s even a brief but meaty role for the always welcome Barry Corbin, at whom you’ll need to squint for a few minutes before you remember where you know him from: that’s Maurice from “Northern Exposure”, believe it or not.
Corbin is one those actors that can’t help but display complete conviction, regardless of how ridiculous the circumstances, and as such he was absolutely vital to the runaway success of “Exposure”, grounding a show that easily could have (and eventually did, but not before more than a few brilliant episodes) floated away on its own quirky little cloud, while still adding his own brand of bullheaded weirdness to the mix. He’s always, always good, and I’m hoping this performance means we’ll be seeing (and hearing, as he’s got a great voice) more of him. It’s a good time right now for character actors, and he’s due some respect as one of the masters.
The ending, without giving too much away, is pretty open-ended, and following the abrupt cut to black, I tensed myself for some booing and hissing, in whatever snide form it chose to take. None came, that I could hear, but I felt it all over me. You know when you watch a movie that you really like, and you desperately want to share it with a friend or loved one, and then you finally get them to watch it with you, and you can just feel their disappointment and boredom trickling hotly into your every pore, to the point where you just want to shut it off and forget you ever saw this movie or met this person, and your feelings about both are forever tarnished to some extent? I was getting some of that from the few in attendance. It’s possible, maybe even probable, that I was creating this sensation out of nothing. I just wanted a tidy, cathartic ending for my little simpleton Mainer pals, and suffice it to say they didn’t get it.
But who am I to say that they wanted or needed it? I didn’t overhear any rave reviews, but no one complained or threw popcorn. Some of the jokes got laughs, and the Coens certainly earned their jolts from this particular crowd. People weren’t chatting or whispering during the movie, and no hushed cell phone calls were made that I heard. Maybe they liked it. They probably did. It was a good movie, and I’d be surprised if the ten or twelve folks who sat behind us weren’t thinking long and hard about it today, like myself at the moment.
So I can foist whatever supposed yokel idiosyncracies and closed-mindedness on my Yankee co-viewers all I want, but in the end, I’m the one who wanted that pat little ending, with everyone getting what they deserved and the happy survivors skipping merrily into the sunset with armloads of money and lives of uninterrupted bliss thereafter. As much as I respect filmmakers that don’t pander, I crave a crowdpleasing formula every bit as bad as I seem to think all those Michauds, Cummings, Thibodeaus, and Bouchards do, and when I don’t get it (in either sense of the phrase), I can’t help but feel a little gypped. Shouldn’t good people get what they want, expect, and work for?
I still don’t see any four-wheelers or deer hunting in my future anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t understand and love this backwards, freezing, God-forsaken hellhole, and lately every day brings me a little closer to comprehending why it is that I keep coming back to it, even after escaping to supposedly greener pastures.
Go see that movie!