Born To Be Blue (Canada/UK, 2015)

born_to_be_blueDirected by: Robert Budreau. Delighted to see the hand of Canadian cinema (tiny hand that it is) in this cookie jar, because this turned out to be a very good movie! I was expecting high things, partly because I like Chet Baker and his music and his myth, and partly because this movie inevitably invokes that other great Chet Baker film, the documentary Let’s Get Lost (one of the saddest, most beautiful films I’ve seen), and partly because Ethan Hawke is an incredible actor. Now that the chips are in, I can confirm that this is, in fact, a really good movie, perhaps even a great movie. This director Robert Budreau, and Ethan himself, seem to both be really big Chet fans, they’ve both made decisions that indicate they really “get it”, if you know what I mean. The alternating use of colour and black-and-white, for starters, and the focus of the screenplay, choosing this particular period of Chet’s life, where he’s kind of a wash-up, he’s lost his teeth due to his drug lifestyle, and he’s getting clean and teaching himself to play again with false teeth—what a great period to pick! The basic facts of Chet’s life have always been interesting to me for the simple reason that they kind of reject any effort to make them fit into a standard Hollywood biopic-redemption story. I’m glad this is an independent film, and I’m glad that Chet never gets “redemption” in the Hollywood sense. Like a lot of films (including the recent Whiplash), he gets his professional comeback, he overcomes adversity to re-learn trumpet with dentures (something he really did, by the way!), but he doesn’t get to join the square world of functional happiness. That’s just not Chet. He never quit heroin, and he died a very lonely man. It’s not a happy story particularly, but that’s what’s so damn poetic about it—Chet’s music is not particularly happy music. There were a few things here and there—that hallucination of the spider in the trumpet at the very beginning felt like a little Trainspotting moment to grab our attention, but which didn’t fit in the rest of the tone of the film at all. And because I don’t play trumpet, I can’t speak to the quality of Ethan’s miming, so I’m open to the idea that maybe it’s a deal-breaking awful bit of juvenile pantomime (to me, poor mime-playing in cinema is usually deal breaker). But as it is, this film was a beautifully written, beautifully shot showcase of some amazing actors digging into some great roles. The wide space of the film itself gives each of the three principals lots of room to maneuver. It’s great to see my man Callum Keith Rennie, and refreshing to see him not pigeon-holed as “bad guy”, but a really 3-dimensional, robust supporting character. As noted, Ethan is amazing, a career high point if I ever saw one. Carmen Ejogo, unknown to me at the time, gave one of those performances that takes a supporting role and turns it into a co-lead. What I usually refer to as “supportive wife” roles, where the lead actress is usually asked to be a fucking doormat to the tortured male hero that we’re meant to idolize—that whole dynamic is really out the window in this movie. Chet is likeable and charming, so we see what the attraction is, but he’s a fucking idiot too, we can’t pin our identification fully on him. It’s up to Jane to be the real person that we can identify with, to translate Chet for us, to guide us through this crazy world. And the arc is hers just as much as his. What a nice movie!

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One response to “Born To Be Blue (Canada/UK, 2015)

  1. Pingback: Miles Ahead (USA, 2016) | Offhand Reviews·

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