This is a very difficult film to describe. How do you separate a movie that mostly stinks from the subject matter: the man and his music that had such a great influence on so many people around the world. And given the numerous inaccuracies contained in this film, how do we know that any of it is real. Is this a flawed portrayal of the life of a remarkable artist, or is it just lies from start to finish? My comments therefore will be aimed primarily at the film and not at the actual man.
In Take Me Home we get a glimpse into the life of a man that is inevitably flawed, as in the best tradition of Shakespearean tragedy. His poor relationship with his father is echoed in his relationship with his children. His early life of frequent moving and his desire to communicate with the world are at odds with the idyllic love and home that any man would want. Eventually he begins to appear like a man who wants to sing about a romanticized life that he doesn't actually want to lead. In the end his declining popularity coincides with the achievement of a certain peace.
One of the problems with this film is that John Denver's life was not a Shakespearean tragedy. It was simply a man's life. And as a depiction of such, this film has an almost total disrespect for timelines. For example, the songs appear to be chosen, not for their actual release dates, but for how they fit into the mood of a given scene. This may have been acceptable for any other film, but not for the story of a songwriter. Another temporal problem is that John maintains his 1970s appearance throughout the latter part of the film despite the fact that he'd cut his hair and emerged from the seventies like the rest of us. And then there was the split-second gap between Annie asking for a divorce and his meeting Cassandra. In reality that was five years.
The acting is this film ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous. Kristin Davis, as Annie, is just totally gorgeous from start to finish. Her performance is without fault. The best performance though, was Gerald McRaney. As John's father he conveyed his distance and disapproval with real acting class. Indeed, a highlight of the film is the scene where he is teaching John to fly the Lear Jet. Very subtle, very genuine; a superb performance.
And then there's the ridiculous. There is no other word for Chad Lowe's portrayal of John Denver. His comical attempts to look like he is singing would almost be funny if they weren't such an insult. It is obvious that he has no feeling for the music and no real grasp of the mannerisms of the man. He does, however, passably look the part. Indeed, when hiking in the mountains with his red flannel coat and leather hat, I could almost believe he was the real thing.
Take Me Home has a few things to commend it. I like how it hints of a problem with alcohol but does not dwell on it. I like how they set up the scenario for his death but spare us the details, instead portraying a man in a moment of happiness. And despite all the faults it is, to date, the only dramatic depiction of the life of a man that had an extraordinary influence on world opinion.
While this movie is something of a classic tragedy, and has managed to bring a tear to my eye every time I've watched it, I have to ask the inevitable question. How sorry should I feel for a man with his own Lear Jet? In truth John Denver achieved most of his life's goals with staggering success. Even his death was a death of consummate luxury. So why do I feel sorry? Perhaps he said it for me. "More than anything else, I'm sorry for myself, for living without you." The truth is, I miss him still.
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