The Big Country (1958)
As I said last week, we watched a lot of Westerns getting ready for our trip to Arizona, but they all had something to do with the state. They were either filmed there or set there. As we were watching them though, I kept thinking of a couple of others that I really wanted to share with David, so we watched those when we got back.
The first is The Big Country, which is probably my favorite Western. People talk a lot about how Unforgiven deconstructed and commented on the Western genre (and it did), but The Big Country did it 34 years before. Gregory Peck plays a greenhorn from the East who's moved out to an unidentified part of the West (I always assume it's Texas, but most of the movie was shot in California) to marry his girl. I say "greenhorn," because that's how he dresses and that's what everyone takes him for. We learn quickly that he's a sea captain, so that's cool, but then we also learn that his father owns the shipping company he works for, so we don't know right away if he's any good at his job or if Daddy just gave him the job. I mean, it's Gregory Peck, so we can make a really great guess about which of those is true, but the movie lets us learn about James McKay along with the other characters.
There's a plot about a feud between McKay's future father-in-law and another rancher (played by Burl Ives in a way that's more wicked than I'm entirely comfortable with from the guy who sings "Pearly Shells"), but the thrust of the movie is about how everyone in the West judges McKay and finds him wanting, mostly because he refuses to prove himself to them. He has plenty to prove to himself though and that's the stuff that hooks me right through the cheek. He's an amazing, inspirational character and reveals the macho posturing of the cowboys (Charlton Heston in particular as the foreman of the father-in-law's ranch) for the childishness that it really is. The movie's got a great cast (Jean Simmons is also in it as the best friend of McKay's fiancé and Chuck Connors plays Ives' son), powerful themes, and a humorous touch that makes it super engaging.
Young Guns (1988)
The other Western I was excited to share was Young Guns. I'm the same age as most of the guys in this cast, so Young Guns made a big impact on me when it came out. It's got some of my favorite actors, great action, and a lot of humor, which are what I thought I was responding to back in the day. Looking back on it though, I realize that subconsciously I was also very into the concept of young men who didn't feel like they had any power, but learned that they could make a difference in their world. Sadly, it wasn't as big a hit with David and Diane, but I enjoyed the heck out of watching it again.
While We're Young (2015)
As an old guy who enjoys hanging out with younger people, I was intrigued with the idea of Noah Baumbach's latest film. I like Ben Stiller more often than I don't and I'm becoming a huge Adam Driver fan thanks to his performances in This Is Where I Leave You and What If. Naomi Watts will always be cool to me thanks to King Kong and Amanda Seyfried is endlessly interesting to watch. And then there's Charles Grodin, whom I can never get enough of.
So with all that going for it, I was surprised to not enjoy While We're Young more. It's got some cool ideas and funny moments and it raises good questions about age and art and truth and ambition and success. That's all great. But it hangs all of these things on the relationship between Stiller and Driver's characters. I had a hard time buying them as people who would want to spend a lot of time together. Or maybe I just didn't understand why anyone would want to spend a lot of time with Stiller's character. He has so many quirks and hang-ups that not only is he insufferable, he's also dealing with such specific issues that I wasn't able to relate to his point of view. And that's a problem when his point of view is the filter through which the movie's big questions are looked at and explored.