As we barrel towards the Oscar nominations on January 10, I wanted to get as many of these reviews and essays about the possible contenders out of the way, which is why I’m stacking these two together. They also happen to be companion pieces in many respects: both figure American men in early middle age struggling with both internal and external issues; they are directed by indie stalwarts; both are macro examinations and celebrations of non-urban America, one rural the other suburban; they are love stories. I’m sure I can build other flimsy bridges between them, but I’ll leave those four themes as reason enough for this twin review.
While trying to persuade a friend who wanted to see Les Misérables to see Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land instead, he asked, “What sort of a Van Sant film is it?”
“The Good Will Hunting/Milk kind,” I replied. In other words, the more mainstream social-issues-driven variety, rather than Gus’ own private Idaho of pretty male teens and the trouble they get into, which is the sort of film he prefers making, but can’t make a living on.
The production back story with Promised Land is this was meant to be Matt Damon’s directorial debut, from a script he wrote with John Krasinski, based on a story by Dave Eggers. Damon had to step down as director due to scheduling conflicts, and asked Gus to step in, which explains why the film has so little of the auteur director’s imprimatur on it.
Rent. Ain’t it a bitch?