Monday, January 9, 2017

That's a heavy story, Pop.

I see my dad once a year. Twice if there's a funeral.

Typically, when he's not serving us contextually exotic meals (he's a chef), one of the few acceptable (and expected) activities we partake in as a family is a trip to the movies. He'll see anything, which is appreciated, but I always feel this odd pressure. This is the one movie he'll see in the theater this year. There's not a lot of wiggle room, you know?

But my dad? I'm telling you - he's incredibly easygoing.

Unless you suggest fast food for dinner, you don't really have to worry about upsetting him.

Not gonna lie, Manchester by the Sea was sold out.
If only the same could be said for Troy Maxson, Denzel Washington's character in 2016's Fences. While I'm sure my own father fought through some adversity in his day, Chef Brown's journey couldn't hold a candle to the constant tragedy of Maxson's. Somewhat arduous but steadily compelling, Washington's directorial effort capably shines the light on one man's darkness.

Set in 1950's Pittsburgh, the story opens with Maxson and his best/only friend Mr. Bono riding through the hills of the Steel City on the back of a sanitation truck. It's fitting too, because for these men, there's a lot of garbage to be dealt with.

Initially, Troy appears to be an honest guy making honest money, collecting his pay and heading straight home to his loving wife, Rose (a typically mesmerizing Viola Davis). But as the hours and days pass, waste management takes on a whole new meaning.

Like many of Denzel's most memorable characters, I found myself unable to get any real footing with Troy Maxson. He was simultaneously boisterous and charming, which I liked, but he was pretty f--king terrifying, too. Even just sitting there in the theater, I felt I better sit up and fly right or else, you know?

Through brilliant dialogue and knockout performances, Maxson's true character is revealed one gut-punch at a time. You might not like all, but as the film progresses you understand him. I'm sure there are a million other paths to choose rather than the one Maxson selected, but for the most part, for as truly ignorant as he is, Troy is doing his best.

And that what make this story so damned heartbreaking.

Also squandering the slim chance they had at a good life, are the Yays and Boos. And these poor bastards don't even get to come home to Viola Davis and a hot dinner. They get me. And a Hot Pocket.
Ah, the good old days. Days when you could walk past a kid in the street...
...and not wonder what the Hell he was doing there.
  • Man, I really liked Lyons, Troy's 34 year-old son from another marriage. He just seemed like a nice guy trying to get by, you know? 
  • Same goes for Mr. Bono, Troy's good friend from work. The performance from Stephen Henderson is perfect, but he gets bonus points for the simple fact that when he's onscreen, I can actually exhale.
  • Dude, Rose is an incredible woman. I'm not entirely sure why she's hung in with Troy for as long as she has (she explains it....but, still), but regardless, she's one cape short of being a legitimate superhero.
  • Mykelti Williamson broke my heart as Gabe, Troy's brother dealing with a traumatic brain injury. This guy...
  • I don't go to the theater that often, but even I could appreciate the intimate nature of this film-adaptation. Outside of a handful of scenes (like, three), the entire story takes place either in the kitchen, or in the backyard. It's pretty rad, honestly. (Especially when they talk, move three feet downstage, then talk some more)
  • Yes! I heard about a half-dozen mmm-hmm noises coming from the elderly woman behind me, and I could damn-near feel the breeze on the back of her neck as she modded in agreement.
  • Man, Cory grew up right. And his little sister? That girl was adorable.
  • And finally, there's a twenty-minute stretch that is so f--king awful, I have to commend how strongly it made me want to look in the other direction. My wife said she knew it was coming, but I was absolutely floored. Like, it's so raw, so undeniably horrible and tragic, right? But it just keeps going. Troy just keeps going. If he had just stabbed Rose in the eye with a rusty knife, it would have been easier to watch than this. Good. Grief.
  • An Underworld movie preview before Fences? Uh, the f--k is this?
  • I swear, that first scene in the backyard? That f--ker was twenty minutes long. Easily. Not that my dad would know...(he totally slept through this part...if not others).
  • Despite his insistence that he came along too early, honestly, I'm not sure there was ever going to be a right time for Troy Maxson.
  • You can call me a p-ssy, that's fine, but good God, the n-word is dropped, like, 900 times. 
  • What the f--k, Troy? You can be pissed, sure. But clearing the table off like that? Shit ain't right.
  • I ain't signing the papers. F--k. This.
  • Goodness, Troy's personal summation of his own life was f--king terrible. You almost start to feel bad for the guy...
  • ....then you hear the story of the first time he had a girlfriend....and then you feel worse. MUCH, much worse.
  • What is about Denzel, in almost any scene in any movie, where you're kind of sitting there thinking, Uh, is he going to kill someone? Damn, Troy. I can't enjoy my popcorn under such duress.
  • Yeah, Cory. Let's get the bat involved. That should end well.
  • I'm not really sure what to make of that scene. It was a bit...odd. And honestly, those weren't the gates I thought should be opened. 
  • And finally, as I type this, I enjoyed the film. As we drove home that night, I enjoyed the film (even though 'enjoyed' is the wrong word, I'm sure of it). But when I was in the theater watching it, it was f--king work. I was drained both physically and emotionally...and straight up, I never want to see this movie again. 

It's weird to see a movie about an absent father during the one week a year I spend with my dad. But what's even weirder? When I asked him what he thought about it afterwards, he said something to the effect of:

I liked it. And in my mind, I thought it was about a guy, you know? I watched it and didn't consider his race for a second.

I just looked at him. Incredulously.

I wanted to say, Sure, old man. Like I look at the dinner you just made, and I don't give a shit about the ingredients...or where they came from.

But I wouldn't want to upset him.


  1. Great review. I agree with you on Mykelti Williamson, he made me want to cry. I like your take on Troy too, about not really liking him, but getting him. That's how I felt too.

    Denzel and Viola deserves all the Oscars.

    1. Man, Gabe was the likely the saddest thing in this sad story. He broke my heart with how good he was, how they treated him....everything. When he comes in in the middle of their huge argument? I almost crawled under my chair.

      The whole 'supporting' Oscar seems cheap (c'mon Viola, really?), but yeah, trophies for everyone!

  2. Aw man, I want to see this movie so bad, and at the same time I want to stay the hell away, because I get a feeling it's going to break me a little. Denzel looks flat out terrifying!

    1. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this one, but it's worth experiencing...even if hurts pretty much the whole time. (Like a two-hour open-heart surgery... without anesthesia).

      Uh, yeah. Denzel goes from 0 to TOTAL MANIAC in record time! Runnnnn!

  3. "Despite his insistence that he came along too early, honestly, I'm not sure there was ever going to be a right time for Troy Maxson."

    OMG, that is such a perfect line. To call him a piece of work is putting it incredibly mildly. In any event, we get him, just as you say. And yeah, it was work getting through this, but enjoyable work. I don't think that's the wrong word, either. Like you, I left the theater drained, but in a really good way. Thanks for recognizing Stephen Henderson's performance. Dude is just perfect. Of course, so is Viola Davis. Amazing work from everyone, really.

    1. Great comment, Dell. I'm glad you dug the movie. It was a tough watch to say the least. Troy is suck a f--king bastard, you know, but it's almost understandable.

      Dude, Stephen Henderson is the truth. Would love to see this dude in more stuff.

  4. I love that you mentioned how Denzel always seems right on the edge of killing someone in this movie. He's always a hair trigger away from exploding. Makes for such a tense but engaging viewing.

    1. Man, AW, I always sit a little crooked when I'm watching a Denzel movie. I want to lean forward, because, well, he's the f--king man, right? But I'm also peeling back a bit, because the guy's intensity is deeply unsettling at times. And Hell, in this movie he's miles away from a gun, or a plane, or whatever, and still...he's right on that edge of something.