“…Tatiana Maslany’s depiction of Erin Hurley is one of genuine sentiment and a warm almost tangible sense of goodness.”
In many ways, Stronger is one of those ten-a-penny ‘triumph over adversity’ films that have been such a mainstay of cinema over the years.
However, what separates David Gordon Green’s tale from most are the superbly powerful performances of the film’s principal characters.
Owing to Jeff Bauman’s erratic nature and inability to turn up when he’s meant to, his relationship with Erin Hurley is something of an on and off affair. At the time in which Erin is due to run the Boston Marathon, their relationship is firmly in the off position, yet Jeff is clearly still obsessed with ‘his’ girl-next-door, Erin, and in a chance meeting at their local bar, Jeff, in a grand gesture aimed at winning her back, not only encourages the bar’s many patrons to sponsor Erin, but vows himself to cheer her on at the finish line.
Home-made banner in hand, for once Jeff just about sticks to his word, but it’s a decision that will dramatically change his life forever as he falls victim to the cowardly bombings of April 2013.
Surrounded by many well-meaning friends and family, in theory Jeff has the support network in place to help him overcome his disability. But with his alcoholic mother and good-time friends’ better judgement so frequently blighted by the bottle – not to mention having to live in a tiny room in his mother’s pokey apartment that is entirely unsuitable for the needs of a a disabled person – it soon becomes apparent that if Jeff is going to have any chance of coming to terms and indeed being at peace with his now drastically changed existence, it’s going to have to be down to him.
If it weren’t for Erin, that is.
Erin, a girl so sweet and caring, will prove over time to be an absolute rock of dependability, ensuring that Jeff’s road to some form of recovery may not be quite so fraught with problems after all.
Little is made of the actual bombings themselves in Green’s film, with only a hint of politicising events or finger pointing at suspects. Instead, the focus turns to Bauman’s psychological struggles in coming to terms not only with his disability, but with the expectation of a city positively tripping over itself to laud him as being some kind of hero, to be wheeled out in public at every given opportunity.
“Boston Strong” is the mantra of the city’s people as its population closes ranks and comes together in the face of adversity.
But Jeff’s life fast descends into a circus of celebrity revolving around rather anodyne acts of flag waving at Bruins matches or tossing first pitches at Red Sox games, not to mention a proposed visit to Jeff’s home from the TV Queen of all-American sentiment, Oprah Winfrey.
It’s understandably all too much.
The one ray of light throughout though is the wonderful Erin. But Jeff’s innate unreliable nature combined with the psychological scarring of recent events threatens to undermine everything good that this girl undoubtedly brings into his life.
Stronger boasts decent support performances most notably from Miranda Richardson who is a good piece of casting as Jeff’s well-meaning but troubled alcoholic mother, Patty, but it is the film’s leading pair who predictably steal the show.
Jake Gyllenhaal is tremendously visceral in his portrayal of Jeff Bauman whilst Tatiana Maslany’s depiction of Erin Hurley is one of genuine sentiment and a warm almost tangible sense of goodness. Together the couple demonstrate the most solidly believable on-screen chemistry as they attempt to navigate their way through the most harrowing scenes of tension and heartbreak.
Just how much of David Gordon Green’s film has been embellished for cinematic purposes only Jeff and Erin themselves will know, but as a cinematic spectacle, Stronger stands alone well as an engaging, thought-provoking film absolutely brought alive by way of some truly memorable performances.