Jeff Bauman is a well-intention-ed but underachieving Boston native who works at the deli counter of a Costco and lives in a small two-bedroom apartment with his alcoholic mother, Patty. One day at the local bar, Jeff runs into his ex-girlfriend Erin, who is attracted to his kindness and charm but finds herself constantly frustrated by his lack of commitment. After learning that Erin is running in the Boston Marathon to raise money for the hospital she works at, Jeff asks every patron in the bar to donate and then promises Erin he'll wait at the finish line for her with a big sign. The day of the Marathon, Jeff scrambles to make it to the finish line on time but reaches it just before Erin reaches the finish line. As she approaches a bomb goes off right where Jeff is standing. After being rushed to a hospital, both of Jeff's legs are amputated above the knee. When he regains consciousness, Jeff tells his brother that he saw the bomber before the explosion. Patty calls the FBI, and ...
Stronger picks itself up from dramatic clichés with its burly Boston grit.
The Boston marathon bombings were, at the time of this review, six years ago. Six years since the stable city had its foundations shaken to the core by an act of terrorism. Innocent bystanders caught in the blast radius had their lives altered, adapting to a world where no one feels safe. Jeff Bauman was one of those individuals, who supported a loved one and unknowingly had his life adjusted. Luckily he survived and, with the assistance of Green and Gyllenhaal, was able to turn his experience into a cinematic symbol that overcomes emotionally manipulative clichés. Bauman was supporting his on/off girlfriend during the marathon when he unfortunately lost both of his legs when caught in the blast. He must then radically adjust to his new life and appreciate the sacrifice everyone has made for him.
No one asks to be an amputee. No one wishes to be disabled. So when such a choice is encountered, several lives are forced to be changed. In this instance, Bauman must come to terms with the fact he will never walk like he used to. For his family, this involves sacrificing their typical routines to cater for his immediate needs. Most notably his girlfriend, played marvellously by Maslany, who inevitably juggles her life around just to help him. Naturally, Bauman's PTSD is only intensifying with the constant media attention that his mother enables, and this is where Green excels when directing this part-biopic.
He hones in on Bauman's child-like personality. His laziness and affinity for alcohol consumption doesn't deteriorate after this tragic event, in fact, it increases. The feeling of uselessness and helplessness cannot be avoided, and Green allows us to feel those tangible feelings by giving us a personable insight into Bauman's life. There's a painfully beautiful one-take scene where Bauman is in hospital and his bandages are being removed whilst focusing intently on his girlfriend. It's scenes like these that elevate both the cinematic quality and emotional investment of this film, and at times it really does hit you. Green rarely resorts to melodrama, a trap he could've easily fell into. No, this is a mature drama that hones in on humanity's greatest strength. Unity.
Needless to say, the star is Gyllenhaal. What can I say except state that this might just be his best performance. Unbelievably nuanced and yet once again garnered little to no recognition for it. Did nobody watch the argument in the car? Or the physical dragging of himself through a car park whilst crying in pain and requesting help? God damn. The man can act.
Where the film struggles however is with Pollono's screenplay. Being based on Bauman's memoirs, I would've anticipated more bite to the dialogue. Unfortunately nothing really stood out. The power of the lines are diminished by an overly-hostile Boston family that was a near imitation of 'The Fighter'. Richardson's character of Bauman's mother was just too much. An imperative role in enabling Bauman's idleness, yet executed in the most unoriginal way possible. All the shouting, arguing and selfishness comes across as forced and unnecessary. It detracts from the humility and warmth of Bauman's story. Take the waiting room scene in the hospital. The sheer ferocity of this typical Boston family loses the fragility within the narrative, and enraged me more than anything. Moments of tenderness are diminished from these family members, creating uneven tones.
Still, Stronger manages to overcome the typical clichés that pollute most inspiration stories, producing some well-intentioned emotional turmoil from a mighty masterful central performance.
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