I have a confession to make. There is something about a “feel good” movie that absolutely makes my skin crawl. A creeping sense of nausea sets in, and at the suggestion that everything is going to work out fine, I am assured that it almost definitely will not. A fairy-tale ending only serves to ensure us of the fiction.
And so explains my general distaste for last week’s film, Win win. Though once again, I sense that I’m alone here. In the theatre, there was an atmosphere of calm contentment—the audience clearly relieved that this was not The Tree of Life or anything like it. I, meanwhile, squirming. Because the only thing I can imagine that is worse than a feel good family tragedy, is an unfunny comedy. Win win manages to be both, and so in some sense, I guess, does live up to its name.
No offense meant to director Tom McCarthy, who creates, if nothing else, a recognizable but not formulaic story about likeable but not loveable people. For me, the rest was missing. The struggle should have been a bit harder, the lessons more ambiguous, and the jokes certainly could have been jokier. A few good chuckles, but where are the guffaws? When Jeffrey Tambor is on screen, I want to laugh so hard I choke on my Skittles. Got it?
And yet, all of this might have been overlooked by this cynical self-appointed critic if it wasn’t for the needlessly, excruciatingly happy ending. The makeshift Flaherty family live happily ever after with a broken furnace; the senile grandfather is returned to his home, which he is bound to burn to the ground one day soon; and the skanky drug-addled mother figure goes back to her wild party life with a sweet pay cheque for the price of abandoning her only son.
Still, if I thought that McCarthy had any interest in us dwelling on that ugly truth, I might have been able to forgive him. But the film’s dumb smile of an ending says it all: Everything always sort of works out for well-meaning suburban white people.
(Still feeling good about Win win? Rate it here!)
This week, the Cape Breton Island Film Series takes a look at everything that is not sunny, white, or suburban, with The Interrupters, a documentary that heads into the trenches of urban warfare on Chicago’s inner-city streets.
The Interrupters follows 15 years after director Steve James’ Hoop Dreams, a groundbreaking doc that follows two boys’ aspirations of basketball greatness, pitted though they are against the harsh realities of poverty and strife in Chicago. Now, James returns to the city, this time to introduce us to its “violence interrupters”—a group dedicated to working with gang members, in an effort to stop the city’s rampant culture of killing.
The interrupters are members of CeaseFire, an organization that believes in a one-on-one approach to conflict-mediation, and employs former gang members to help in preventing further violence. CeaseFire was founded by epidemiologist Gary Slutkin, who argues that violence is a public health issue. He likens the circle of violence to the spread of infectious diseases, and advocates that the treatment be the same: an attack at the source of infection.
The theory is put into practice by CeaseFire’s heroic team, who James and his film crew join on the front lines of what is most certainly a war. They are ex-bangers and ex-cons who have come out on the other side and are seeking redemption, for themselves and their communities. We meet Ameena Matthews, daughter of notorious Chicago gang leader Jeff Fort, who grew up hard, got shot and did prison time, and now lives as a mother of four, the wife of an imam, and a fierce warrior in the fight to end gang violence.
Matthews story alone could tell this story, but there are so many others. We also follow Cobe Williams, a genial man who has turned his life around after a sobering 13-year prison term, and Eddie Bocanegra, who is still atoning for a murder he committed at age 17.
The Interrupters is not a film that promises resolution, but it does inspire faith in real-life heroism and personal redemption. We do not expect to live happily ever after; but we will live and fight for our right to pursue that dream.
That sounds about right.
The Interrupters plays tonight at 7pm at Empire Theatres Studio 10.