Why Crazy Heart Made Me Crazy

Let me say right off, I enjoyed Crazy Heart (which comes out on DVD tomorrow, April 20). My spot for the down-and-outer is as soft as the next gal’s. Jeff Bridges deserved the Oscar for portraying Bad Blake and Maggie Gyllenhaal did a fine job as Jean, the woman who helped Bad turn good.

The bone I have to pick is with the writer-director, Scott Cooper, and his stunted imagination. How else to explain the well-worn story line where the middle-aged guy falls for the woman young enough to be his daughter–who of course eagerly reciprocates? I’m sure I’m not the only woman who sat groaning in disgust in the darkness of the theater.

Not that it was unrealistic. Who doesn’t know a 50-something (or older) man who believed he could only get his groove back with a fresh young face?

And not that I don’t feel the magnetism of the celebrity, be he a politician or a country music star. Never mind that Bad Blake was a boozy, paunchy wreck, while Jean was as lovely and fit as, well, Maggie Gyllenhaal. I get that when Blake was on that stage, strumming the guitar, vulnerable, delivering a whole lot of heartache, he would touch all sorts of women. I get it, I really do.

And it’s not that I want equal opportunity for sisters my age to romp in the hay with younger cowpokes. I’m not looking for more Mrs. Robinsons seducing guileless graduates.

No, what I long for is some simple recognition that there’s beauty, romance, sexiness and passion in women as we age. I’d like the camera to gaze lovingly at faces lined with experience and laughter. I’d like complex women characters who have gone through decades of disappointment and joy, loss and fulfillment. I’d like to see captured on the big screen the fierce loyalty that grows between a couple that has been together from their hopeful twenties to the wise side of 50. Or how about women who chose to be single, who are imbued with strength and dignity and face life head-on, alone and independent–and happy?

In Crazy Heart, Jo Ann, the middle-aged waitress whom Bad briefly beds is, of course, none of these things. No, Jo Ann, played achingly by Beth Grant, is pathetic and desperate, just as we’ve come to expect.

But what if the story line were different? What if the journalist sent to interview Bad was not 30 but 50-something, like he was, and what if she were played by, say, Debra Winger? What if he found himself drawn to her coolness, her toughness?

Or what if Bad Blake had an amazing wife who stood by him for 30 years but finally had enough of his shenanigans and walks out of their trailer one day? What if he seeks to win her back? Wouldn’t the story still be compelling?

If I were a Hollywood producer, I’d take a look at the numbers. I’d see that in 2007 [PDF], 261 million movie tickets were sold to women over 40–not as many as the 296 million sold to young guys under 25, but still. Then I’d ask, Who’s creating gripping stories and complex characters and heart-grabbing romance that will reel in women? I know, among the swarm of starving screenwriters, you’re out there, somewhere.

But what do I know? Scott Cooper made a hugely popular movie. I’m just a midlife woman looking for a different kind of story.


  1. Elisabeth says:

    That’s precisely why I didn’t watch “Crazy Heart” – this issue keeps putting me off, and I’m only in my 30s.

  2. Beth has hit the nail on the head and helped me understand my own discomfort with Crazy Heart. I loved the performances, and it was a compelling drama. But that shot of Maggie G’s flat tummy and teeny undies drove me nuts, and this posting gives me the words to explain why.

  3. Beth, you nailed it royally. Wow. The sad thing is I’ve come to expect predictable yarns as the basis for most of what i see on the Hollywood Screen and I’m a huge film afficianado, to boot. I don’t know what the answer is… when you spoke of the fiercely devoted middle aged couple, my blood raced, and I am a 57 year old, single, female. I know there are many more of us out there who yearn for rich, complex stories with complicated women as well as men and people in whom we can find ourselves, our mates, our parents and friends, in the European tradition.

    Thanks so much for satisfying the need to have the viewpoint aired. Bravo!

  4. Patrick McMullen says:

    Excellent article by Beth!! My views exactly – I would have wanted Renee Rouso (Thomas Crown Affair), Debra Winger would have been great also – especially with her voice, as the women of inspiration in the film. I am so, so very tired of the much older man getting the much younger woman – top of my list of several complaints I have with Hollywood films (but watch many of them anyway – I am a Jeff Bridges fan). The best women and most beautiful women around are over fifty – I am married to one of those women!!

    Same page!!
    Patrick from Phoenix

  5. Frank & Karen says:

    BULLS-EYE! I can’t believe how well you have expressed my ideas and feelings. Thank you so much for articulating an important point in such an eloquent and balanced way.

  6. Frank & Karen says:

    Thank you so much. You’ve said it eloquently and in a balanced way. I couldn’t agree more.

  7. Great article, Beth. I have always loved actresses with a mature beauty & depth – say, Jessica Lange. And as a woman with an aging (but still young) heart, and well, body, I am somehow always amazed by men who are willing to date women 20 years yonger, but not a single year older.

  8. Beth, I’d buy tickets for any of the films you suggest. Hollywood, get on the stick already!

  9. Kay Daniels-Cohen says:

    Beth…you go, girl!!! You hit the nail on the head…great job!!! You opened my eyes to a gnawing little issue that I didn’t realize existed in my head!!! It’s time the Entertainment Industry takes a close look at women of maturity and depth for their exceptional movies and television shows…we are wildly ravaging and quite bright!!! Many Huglets, The Kayster

  10. Beth certainly picks at one of my scabs–it’s challenging enough living/loving one’s way through aging (aches, pains, droops) without the added sting of feeling devalued as a middle/aged woman by our culture. I’d like to see more movies marketing to my demographic.

  11. Exactly. I cannot watch these movies anymore. It’s frustrating to see the older man/younger woman trope played out again and again and again. I have no interest in the story when I see it – it puts me off that much. Thanks for writing this.

  12. Sarah Wells says:

    As a woman who has just turned 30, I enthusiastically endorse your critique! Popular culture has a tremendous impact on how we think about gender and aging. Thanks for a great piece!

  13. Harriet Sparkler says:

    I thought Beth Baker’s comments were “right on” I never was a romantic but certainly seeing an aging male get the beauty queen without so much as lifting anything heavier than a guitar pick is a bit disheartening.I saw a movie preview with Annette Benning coming out soon and she looks terrific.It appears she is wearing little or no make up. And yes you can see character lines but it is a face that I can identify with.More representation of “real women” on film is what real women want to see.

  14. Kee Warner says:

    We just watched Crazy Heart last night and had some similar feelings. I loved the music…..though in a way it gets as stuck as the character. And we had the same reaction to the much younger and instantly smitten woman. I thought Michele Pfeiffer and we also agreed on Jessica Lange. On the other hand the movie also was equally cute with Bad’s relationship with his musical protege. We get a sense of some dramatic and complicated break up and then they are just swell when they get together. The singer Tony Sweet (i think?) is just that, one sweet harmony. The only relationship with any texture to it is between the old guys Jeff Bridges and Robert Duvall. Otherwise it is a little cute, but otherwise, as Hank Jr. says, I love that hurtin music, cause I am hurtin too.

  15. Barbara Kessler says:

    I just watched Crazy Heart too, and I am not sure what the fuss is all about. Yes the 30-something single mom (Maggie) had a brief affair with a “Bad” boy- but ultimately she DUMPS him because she puts the needs of her young son first. He gets sober after seeing that, and writes a hit song, and tries to reconcile with his son. In the end Maggie is engaged to someone else..who we never see..who is more appropriate for her. How is a story about a single working Mom having a brief lapse in judgement then putting her child first, not a positive story for women? Sure romance between older adults is fantastic. ( I’m 46 and still looking for the right person for me).I love Jessica Lange and Meryl Streep and all those beautiful 40 -60 something women. But this story was not simply a love story between a young woman and an older man. it was a story about an older man figuring out what was important because a woman sets his priorities straight!

  16. Enjoyed the article. Haven’t been compelled to see the film yet, have a hard time with Hollywood movies (note:there are some well told commercial films) as they seem to go only so far with characters and story-leaves me feeling like I’ve seen an extended feel-good commercial. Thought your view was well stated.

  17. Robin Talbert says:

    Good article. To me, Jean’s attraction to Bad was unrealistic and consequently I couldn’t really believe in, or get lost in, the movie. I did enjoy the music and the acting, but the “attractiveness” differential, not based on just age or looks, was a serious flaw. I chalked it up to the director’s erroneous belief that charm trumps gross (in men at least). One only has to transpose the genders in these roles to see how ludicrous that is.

  18. Beth, I get your disappointment, but the reality is men Bad’s age go for the younger women. Wouldn’t it have been nice if an older women had been his bottom, but that is not the reality. Is it the shallowness of men, or just the reality. Yes as a 50+ women I could have been just as sold with someone near his age, but I still think it was realistic. I have to tell you that I love Jeff Bridges, but he was not attractive to me in this movie in the least, and I think that speaks for my age.

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