Monday, November 07, 2005

Ride 'Em, Cowboy

Today Andrew Sullivan commits what will certainly be the first of many fawning words about Brokeback Mountain. (Will it be this year's Team America!?!) The only problem is that Sullivan doesn't know much about the movie industry. In an effort to make Brokeback Mountain out to be more than it is, he gives us all sorts of hyperbole about how important this "fascinating cultural moment" is. He tells us:

But that two very hot Hollywood leading men would be prepared to take on these roles, that a director as accomplished as Ang Lee would direct the movie, and that a studio as mainstream as Universal would produce it strikes me as a significant development. A few years back, it would have been unthinkable for bankable, heterosexual stars like Ledger and Gyllenhaal to have embraced such a venture. But they are of the generation that is mercifully over the bigotries of old Hollywood. Think of the greatest actor of his generation, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Three of his most powerful, accomplished, career-making performances - in "Boogie Nights," "Flawless," and "Capote," - are of gay men, each very different, each very human, each poignantly and brilliantly brought to life. In his case, taking on homosexual roles has helped Hoffman reach the career heights he now commands. Ledger and Gyllenhal take this to a new level, because, unlike Hoffman, they are handsome beyond measure, and have played macho heterosexuals for years.

Let's start at the top and work our way down this mountain of blather:

(1) Yes, Jake Gyllenhaal is a hot property; has been for a couple years.

Heath Ledger, on the other hand, missed his shot at the big time in 2001 and has been on a downward career spiral ever since. Ledger was a Bright Young Thing in 1999 when he appeared in the very fine teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You; in 2000 he got second billing in Mel Gibson's Revolutionary War movie The Patriot, which underperformed. Still, Hollywood executives thought Ledger might become a bankable leading man, so they gave him starring roles in a summer action movie (A Knight's Tale) and a bit of Oscar bait (The Four Feathers); both flopped. Since then, Ledger has struggled to get leading-man work and has dipped into such fare as Ned Kelly, The Order, Lords of Dogtown, and The Brothers Grimm. For Ledger, Brokeback Mountain isn't a risk--it's a last, desperate grasp at the brass ring before he disappears into the abyss with Josh Hartnett and Wes Bentley. Remember them?

And what to say of Ang Lee? Lee directed one of my Top 40 movies, Sense and Sensibility. He then directed the cold and clinical Ice Storm. Both films had critical acclaim, but no serious commercial performance. Since then, he's directed two colossal flops: Ride with the Devil and The Hulk, both of which lost money and stunk. He isn't exactly riding a tidal wave of success into this project.

(2) Are Gyllenhaal and Ledger "bankable"? Is Sullivan kidding? Does he even know what the word means? Here's Ledger's résumé:

Release DateMovieTotal GrossOpening Weekend
6/3/05The Brothers Grimm $37,916,267$15,092,079
8/26/05Lords of Dogtown$11,008,432$5,623,373
3/26/04Ned Kelly$86,959$43,704
9/5/03The Order$7,660,806$4,438,899
9/20/02The Four Feathers$18,306,166 $6,857,879
12/26/01Monster's Ball$31,273,922$110,552
5/11/01A Knight's Tale$56,569,702$16,511,391
6/28/00The Patriot$113,330,342$22,413,710
3/31/9910 Things I Hate…$38,178,166$8,330,681

Despite having ridden shotgun with Gibson and Matt Damon--two actors who really are bankable--Ledger has never opened a movie with any real success. In fact, a studio executive might reach the opposite conclusion: that Ledger is box office poison. Look at those grosses for Ned Kelly, The Four Feathers, and Lords of Dogtown. These pictures should have gone direct-to-video.

And how about that Jake Gyllenhaal? Here's his track record:

Release DateMovieTotal GrossOpening Weekend
11/4/05Jarhead[still in release]$28,751,000
5/28/04The Day After Tomorrow$186,740,799$68,743,584
9/27/02Moonlight Mile$6,835,856$329,771
8/7/02The Good Girl$14,018,296$151,642
6/28/02Lovely and Amazing$4,222,923$91,910
10/26/01Donnie Darko$1,270,522$110,494
8/24/01Bubble Boy$5,007,898$2,038,349
2/19/99October Sky$32,547,800$5,905,250

Take out The Day After Tomorrow--which was a Roland Emmerich disaster extravaganza headlined by Dennis Quaid and starring everyone from Sela Ward to Ian Holm--and Gyllenhaal has never topped $35 million in total gross and never opened a picture above $6 million--$6 million! If you go by the numbers, and not what you read in Us Weekly, you see the portrait of an untested art-house darling, not a "bankable" leading man. You see, in fact, the type of career that was built for roles like "gay cowboy." Brokeback Mountain isn't a risk for Gyllenhaal, it's his wheelhouse. (Yes, Jarhead opened nicely this past weekend, but the executives at Universal didn't know that when they cast Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain many moons ago.)

(3) Was Philip Seymour Hoffman's career made by his "powerful, accomplished, career-making performances" in Boogie Nights, Flawless, and Capote? After all, he's been gay on-screen three times--that must make a trend!

Except that anyone who has followed Hoffman's career knows that to the extent any select performances "made" it, it was made by his work in The Talented Mr. Ripley, Almost Famous, and--more than anything else--Love Liza. If anything, Flawless, Hoffman's turn as a drag queen opposite Robert De Niro, is regarded as one of his few missteps.

(Note also how Sullivan uses Capote as both cause and effect: Playing a gay man in Capote has somehow helped Hoffman reach the heights he now commands where he can get the lead in movies such as Capote.)

(4) Have Ledger and Gyllenhaal "played macho heterosexuals for years"? Hardly. Ledger has yet to play a character older than his early twenties and his career only stretches back to 1999. As for Gyllenhaal, this fall marked the first time he's appeared in a movie as a character older than high school age and if Sullivan were familiar with the Gyllenhaal oeuvre he would know that his prototypical character is that of the sensitive, thoughtful, semi-nerd.

If only Sullivan would leave the movie industry alone. He can probably keep his gig as the resident hep cat on The Chris Matthews Show without having to pretend to be a Hollywood trend spotter.


Anonymous said...

Re: Ang Lee. WHAT?????

Did you forget he directed Crouching Tiger? Which grossed $128 million???

Good post. But a major screw up.

Anonymous said...

Any chance the old blow-hard will slip up and start referring to it as Bareback Mountain?

Anonymous said...

Who is Andrew Sullivan?

Mr. Last, I've often wondered why you waste your time on these obscure internet writers. Surely you could find someone more substantive to write about. Not that I'm telling you your business. It's just that outside these little web circles, nobody has ever heard of Andrew Sullivan.

Anonymous said...

Sullivan will be a lot more credible when he begins to criticize the radicals that comprise a vocal fraction of the gay rights movement.

Months ago I saw a legal forum in Berkeley on C-SPAN where the participants, all lawyers, were discussing how to leverage a same-sex marriage law to create a new definition of marriage. i.e., Marriage as analogous to business partnership law...the overall goal was obviously to completely destroy the traditional concept of matrimony. For example, a hypothetical case was made that 5 people who worked together and had been downsized should be able to "marry" to enjoy the benefits as another version of unemployment benefits.

Sullivan's rhetoric describing a group of Americans desperately seeking to assimilate is compelling...and also completely sabotaged by the above example.

Jason O.

Anonymous said...

Money Quote:

"You see, in fact, the type of career that was built for roles like "gay cowboy." "

Still LMAO.

Anonymous said...

Jason O.:

As annoying as Sullivan has become, I have to come to his defense for a moment. He has spent a good deal of his career criticizing the radical elements of the gay right movement. He even wrote a book about it. The guy has taken major hits from the gay cmmunity. He is not a gay rights "radical."

Anonymous said...

Ride 'E m Cowboy?

Andrew S ullivan?

Is this about gay cowboys eating pudding ?


Anonymous said...

Gyllenhaal is straight? I highly doubt it. I have enough friends in the industry and they all insist that Gyllenhaal is at least bi, and probably as gay as Sullivan.

Anonymous said...

"Is this about gay cowboys eating pudding ?


I read an interview with the guys from South Park and they asked about Brokeback Mountain. Apparently Cartman once said that indepenedent movies are all about gay cowboys eating pudding. They kind of laughed it off but said if there's any pudding eating in the movie, they are suing.

Does anyone know if there was, indeed, pudding eating?

Jay D. Homnick said...

Jonathan, you really cornered him with Flawless, one of Hoffman's least inspired performances. If anything, on the hammy side. Sullivan is either reaching... or projecting.

Beyond that, Hoffman is one of those guys that is just always good. As the punk rich kid in Secnt Of A Woman, even as the gofer of the Big Lebowsky and certainly as the addicted Gambler in Owning Mahony (am I remembering the title right?), he always seems to be who he is supposed to be.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of South Park, Sullivan cliams to be such a huge fan of the show but has apparently forgotten the episode that parodies the Park City Film Fest. In that episode the boys mistakenly attend a film in which...wait for it...the main charcters are two cowboys who strip off their clothes in the middle of the desert and "experiment with their sexuality." Wow, you really can't make this stuff up.

Anonymous said...

Piggybacking on an earlier comment, does anyone else think that Sullivan has become a bit of nutjob? I mean, where does the guy get off? Spouting off on movies--leave that to the pros, right Last?


Anonymous said...

Whatever this movie is like it probably isn't as gay as the Hulk turned out to be.

Second, I've waited years for a decent western and this is what I get? Can any one see John Wayne and Victor McGlaughlin in this picture. "You want me to what, Pilgrim?" "Ders de black hand dat did the dirty deed!" "And now were going to learn to ride in t' style of the ancient Romans!"

steve said...

"the greatest actor of his generation, Philip Seymour Hoffman"????

Maybe Excitable Andy was thinking the greatest gay playing actor of his generation?

Anonymous said...

Ugh. Sullivan's addlepated. I predict a miserable opening weekend for Brokeback and Sullivan spending another weekend alone with his KY.

Anonymous said...

Why everyone put down my movie? It make $132 million not counting video and foreign grosses! Hulk mad!

Anonymous said...

I agree that the hulk wasn't that bad. Then again, I love 'hero' movies hehe.

Marty Grimes said...

A really hope you all see Brokeback Mountain. Though I haven't seen it, I think it will do you good. By the way, The Wedding Banquet was another memorable Ang Lee film.

An excerpt from my blog:

Take your man to see Brokeback Mountain!

Your husband, boyfriend or date needs to see Brokeback Mountain. You must insist that he see this movie. Beg. Plead. Withhold sex. Do whatever you need to do. Watching two cowboys get it on will do him good.

If he resists, drop this line on him: “I’d wonder about the sexuality of a man who isn’t secure enough to watch a gay-themed movie.” In a world where straight men have evolved to be cool with pedicures, moisturizer and plucking their eyebrows, they can certainly get over their issues with a little same sex nookie on the big screen.

Yeah, sure, he laughs at Will & Grace, but his queasiness with male affection is why Will has had about as much on-screen romance as Jessica Fletcher. We’ll never have a truly open society until straight men get over their visceral reactions to seeing two men kissing.

Most people, especially men, are still way too hung up over man-on-man action. Heath Ledger, who plays the role of Ennis, knows why some men are uncomfortable with the movie. “I suspect it’s a fear that they are going to enjoy it,” he told Newsweek. “They don’t understand that you are not going to become sexually attracted to men by recognizing the beauty of a love story between two men.” Ladies, give your man permission to shed his macho veneer for two hours. And bring enough tissue for both of you.