Movie Review: ‘Stronger’
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, and Miranda Richardson
Plot: After surviving the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing, Jeff Bauman must cope with the loss of his legs and new found fame.
As a big fan of film and medium-sized fan of history, I like seeing history first become history before we start making movies out of it. When we are too close to an event, I think its true legacy will often get lost in the process of adapting it to a 3-act structure, despite life never fitting neatly into it. The other movie about the Boston Marathon bombing, Patriots Day, starring Mark Wahlberg, feels…inappropriate. I still haven’t seen it, and doubt I ever will. It isn’t that I necessarily have something against Wahlberg or director Peter Berg, but their collaborations up to this point have been cheap, inauthentic, and vapid displays of patriotism.
I was born and raised one town over from Jeff Bauman, and I currently live just outside of Boston. I remember those few days very well. I was glued to the news, a police scanner, and people checking in on social media. Whatever work I was supposed to do those days were simply not getting done. I remember feeling a lot of different emotions, chiefly guilt. Guilt for not being there. Guilt for it feeling personal even though it wasn’t happening to me.
I think that is why Stronger ends up working. It isn’t about capturing the events but rather the moment.
The events of he actual bombing come and go over the course of the movie very quickly. The explosion, Bauman identifying the bombers, and the bombers being killed or caught happens pretty damn close to the beginning, and we spend the rest of the runtime with Jeff as he is left with his personal struggles in the aftermath.
It is, at times, sappy, sentimental, and emotionally manipulative the way that most movies about hope tend to be, but at the heart of it is a very profound story of a man who is not prepared to be what his community needs him to be. The city of Boston is ready to see Bauman as a hero. They are all feeling, I think, as I did, guilty for almost everything, so they need to see Bauman go back to his life and rehabilitate himself beyond his handicap as a symbol of their endurance. So much so, that they can’t see that he is spiraling. The only person who does notice is his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Erin (played by “Orphan Black’s” Tatiana Maslany), whose concern only leads to them antagonizing each other than resolving anything.
Luckily, Jack Gyllenhaal does nothing without authenticity. So, no matter which version of Jeff we get, whether he be angry, depressed, legitimately happy, or just pretending to be, it feels genuine. This helps complicate the sentimentality and reminds me of the feelings of fear, guilt, and general uneasiness I felt those days. Ironically, trying to repaint Jeff sympathetically through his failures to endure ends up making him an even better symbol of endurance. Endurance is hard. Endurance requires effort. I just wish they weren’t so self-aware of that in their conclusion, which ends up being their sappiest scene.