Stronger Film Review :
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There’s a great scene a little over halfway through David Gordon Green’s “Stronger,” in which Jeff Bauman, who lost both of his legs just above the knee in the Boston Marathon bombing, is trying to stand on new prosthetics for the first time. His face is pained and he mutters something about pins and needles, but everyone around him is just cheering, his mother shouting “You look awesome!” He doesn’t feel awesome. “Stronger” transcends your standard inspirational drama mostly through two fantastic performances, but also in the way it understands that trauma isn’t inspirational to the people who suffer it. During much of “Stronger,” Jeff will be told he’s a hero and reminded to stay “Boston Strong,” but will question again and again just what that means. And then Green’s film subverts its own message about the commodification of tragedy to become something even more remarkable—a statement on the value of images of survival. Some of it is too broad, and I wish the film dug a little deeper at times, but this is one of those rare inspirational films that earns its inspiration.
Screenwriter John Pollono’s adaptation of Bauman’s memoir spends very little time on set-up, but Green and his cast make the most of it. We meet Jeff (Jake Gyllenhaal), getting out of a sticky situation at his job at Costco so he can be in his lucky chair to watch the Red Sox game. They lost the last two because he wasn’t there. At the bar, we meet his beer-swilling family, played with sometimes-too-broad Boston accents and personalities by Miranda Richardsonas Jeff’s mom and Clancy Brown as his dad, along with famous Boston comic Lenny Clarke as another relative, and others who sometimes feel straight out of Boston central casting—love the Sox, drink before noon, yell over each other, etc. Jeff’s friends and family sometimes feel a bit too broadly sketched, but they’re captured lovingly.
We also meet Erin (Tatiana Maslany), Jeff’s on-again-off-again girlfriend, who just happens to be running in the Boston Marathon the next day. In what feels like an effort to try and win her back a bit, Jeff makes a sign to greet her at the finish line. He’s at ground zero when the bombing happens, and he loses both of his legs below the knee. He becomes an even bigger story when he reports that he saw one of the bombers. Not only is he a survivor, but he’s going to help take down the enemy. Jeff becomes an image for a nation in need of a hero. But Jeff, with Erin by his side, has to learn how to survive as more than just a symbol.