The soul-deadening, colon-twisting hype machine has made its choice. Walk the Line is a new classic (and destined for TNT’s The New Classics, if we’re lucky).The fact is that James Mangold (pronounced Mangled) has Mangold another dull flat piece of movie garbage, yet because this opportunistic hack job has been enshrined, it’s well on its way to awards heaven. Critics seem to have been equating this slavish cocksucker of a biopic with Johnny Cash himself: as though to insult the film is to demean the memory of the subject. Yet, the problem with Walk the Line is as old as the Hollywood hills: easy soundbitish psychological portraiture, flat succession of cause-and-effect events, daddy problems that come wrapped with a nice finishing bow so we can go home with the calming sense of resolution. Joaquin Phoenix brings some welcome modesty to what could have been insufferably larger than life, and Reese Witherspoon puts on her best Reese Witherspoon pointy face. And they can both sing… on tune. But are their slight charms really enough for all of this?
Wesley Morris: “Reese Witherspoon plays Carter, and it’s a pretty amazing movie-star moment.”
Peter (giggle) Travers: “Witherspoon has nailed it before, but her portrayal of June is astounding in its vitality and richness”
Ebert: “What adds boundless energy to Walk the Line is the performance by Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash.
Anyway, why belabor it? It goes on and on and on. Witherspoon, the little firecracker, is gettin’ her Oscar. It’s her time! It’s been designated. Done deal. Forget the fact that her role is little more than Jennifer Connelly’s in A Beautiful Mind: Completely without an independent mind or spirit, her June Carter Cash exists in Walk the Line only to ail, nurse, and love her self-destructive, pill-popping loverboy.
So, if many mainstream press critics were told to soil their pants before the credits were done rolling on this digestible bit of twang-sanctified hagiography, then they already had their knives out for Rent. Yes, the Broadway musical has always been a mystifying Sesame Street of sexual equality, bad rhymes, and horrid plotting. Yes, it’s hard not to wag a Williamsburg finger at the bald-faced earnestness on display. But guess what? It was the only salve for a night at the movies tainted by Walk the Line. A half-welcome double feature as it turned out, Rent and Walk the Line represent two sides of the same machine, and both may forcefeed, but the biopic is the one for the dustbin. “Forcibly maudlin” and “mawkish sentimentality” were two phrases bandied about by press critics for Rent. And how does this derision not apply to Walk the Line, a film in which Johnny Cash falls face down in the mud in the middle of the forest, wakes up the next morning, sees a house with a For Sale sign before him, mutters “That’s a nice house,” and then cut to Johnny moving some boxes into his new abode.
Fact is, there isn’t an ounce of the joyous, goofy exuberance found in Rent in any frame of Walk the Line, yet Johnny Cash is untouchable, lionized subject matter, while transvestites with AIDS are just so 1995. Rosario Dawson has as much “boundless energy” and “stage presence” as Reese Witherspoon…but well, we like our kewtie pies slightly less threatening, don’t we? (White is a plus, too). Rent can be derided up and down for its naïve, earnest bellow to the clouds, but the oft-poo-poohed Chris Columbus proves himself a far more visually thoughtful filmmaker than Mangled ever had (I’ll still take Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Home Alone over Kate and Leopold, Heavy, and Girl Interrupted any day of the week) The response to these simultaneously released pop-song extravaganzas shows us where our priorities are…not that there’s any surprise there at all.