STARS: Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Krysten Ritter, Nick Offerman
DIRECTOR: Brett Haley
If it weren't for Sam Elliott's voice--the most distinctive in all of showbiz--he wouldn't be who he is today. The same can be said of many of us who have traded upon our dulcet tones to eke out a livelihood. In the opening shot of The Hero, that's exactly what Elliott--as faded western movie star Lee Hayden--is doing. Laying down voice-overs--in his languid cowboy drawl--for "Lone Star Barbecue Sauce...the perfect pardner for yur chicken."
Lee's glory days are behind him. But he's a survivor. In this instance, survivor of a shopworn plot about a man trying to make amends for being AWOL from the lives of his loved ones for far too long. And with a recent cancer diagnosis throwing him for a loop, he will learn what it means to be a literal survivor.
So it would seem that a May-December romance is the last thing he would need right now. Lee sits around smoking a lot of weed with his buddy-slash- drug dealer Jeremy (Nick Offerman). At Jeremy's place Lee meets the comely Charlotte (Laura Prepon) who is dropping by to score some shit (that's stoner talk, for the uninitiated!) Charlotte is mid-thirties, just a tad older than Lee's daughter, but lucky for him (he's 71) she digs older guys. And he's a celebrity, so no one is going to look askance at the two of them together, as that's the norm in Hollywood anyway.
There is great chemistry and emotion--often conveyed only by the eyes--between Elliott and Prepon, whom you may recognize from That '70s Show and Orange Is The New Black (and though she started out as a blonde, she is more intriguing here with the darker hair).
The most electric scene in The Hero comes when Charlotte--who does stand-up in the mold of Sarah Silverman--goes onstage with a raunchy tell-all bit about herself and her new beau, with Lee in the audience, stunned and appalled. He hails from an era when folks--especially women--had a bit more class. And there, my friends, is the gap you have to bridge in any modern day romance of this sort.
Katharine Ross, who was BIG at one time, is in the film, and she has billing in the opening credits, but if you blink you'll miss her. She plays Lee's ex-wife, but has what I would call even less than a cameo--appearing in two very brief scenes, and you won't recognize her as the sweet-faced obsession of Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. Or from Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. (It's probably the glasses.) Ross is Sam Elliott's real life spouse, and that accounts for why she is even in this movie. But she is wasted here. Though she may have figured she was just helping him out a little, and no longer feels drawn to the spotlight.
Krysten Ritter, as Lee's estranged daughter who is so mistrustful of him now that she's like a puppy you have to coax out of hiding, may have you scratching your head as to where you've seen her before. She's been in a surprising number of films, and various sitcoms such as Gilmore Girls (I wasn't going to admit that I used to watch that sometimes). She's a good fit for this role, though her looks are too perfect, especially when you look at "Lee"...then you really have to scratch your head!
Aside from needing to trim his trademark moustache (don't you hate it when the hairs are starting to curl down over the guy's lips?), Sam Elliott's noteworthy--and possibly Oscar worthy--portrayal carries the day in The Hero.
He's a man who has to become the hero of his own life...and that's something to which we can all aspire.
Grade: B +
POSTSCRIPT: As I was leaving the theater, a couple walking in front of me were holding hands. She was forty-ish, and he had clearly put seventy in his rear-view mirror. He could have been her father, but that wasn't my sense of it. I started thinking that The Hero might trigger a rash of younger women looking for that daddy figure in their lives to come out of the closet.
If it does...bring it on!
(Dream on, Timmy. Dream on!) Although I'd been told that the audiences in Tucson were flocking to see this flick, the theater I went to in La Jolla was nearly empty. So be it. Some men are sexy no matter how wrinkled they get. Sam Elliott is one of those men. (Along with Clint Eastwood and Christopher Plummer.) But The Hero isn't just about senior sex appeal, or estranged father/daughter relationships, or May-December romances. It's about a subject many of us will unfortunately have to face: The Big "C.'' And whether, after reaching a certain age, seeking treatment is the best option. (The old 'quality of life' conundrum.)
On a personal level, I've seen what chemo can do to a loved one and, believe me, it ain't pretty. I won't give away the choice Sam Elliott's character makes but I will say that most cancer patients don't run into the likes of Laura Prepon after learning they have a 7% chance of recovery....
Aside from the shock value of the comedy club scene that Tim has already described, my favorite was when Lee was put on hold, trying to make an appointment to see his oncologist -- while Grieg's "Anitras' Dance" from Peer Gynt played endlessly over the phone. How many times have you had to wait endlessly, trying to make a doctor's appointment? (If I had my way, I'd have Chopin's "Funeral March" playing in the background!)
Despite the sometimes confusing and disruptive flashbacks, The Hero is definitely worth seeing—and talking about afterwards.