Clooney tackles comedy
A good comedy is one that makes you laugh, a great comedy is one that beckons you to re-watch it immediately and laugh at the same things again, and a classic comedy is one that keeps you coming back year after year. Leatherheads is definitely a good comedy, it has the makings of a great comedy, and only posterity will know if it will be deemed a classic. I realize this is a strong endorsement for a film that Iíve just met, but sometimes you just know. Either that, or itís just that I would rather see Leatherheads five more times this month than even imagine seeing Scary Epic Date Movie 34b: I Still Know Who Youíre Dating this Summer.
George Clooney has crafted an almost flawlessly paced, delightful comedy that combines good old-fashioned American sports enthusiasm with Americaís other favorite pastime: nostalgia.
The year is 1925, college football is king and the king of college football is Carter Rutherford of Princeton (Krasinski), a clean-cut, high-class, Ivy League lawyer-in-waiting who is a war hero to boot. Meanwhile, professional football is not so much played as brawled by working-class stiffs in cow pastures and the king of the brawlers is Dodge
Connolly (Clooney), an unscrupulous old salt who dictates his own good press clippings to his befuddled reporter friend Suds (the hilarious Stephen Root).
Enter the dame. Sheís a reporter (itís always a reporter) named Lexie Littleton (the less hilarious Zellweger) sent by the Chicago Tribune to build up Carter and then kneecap him by revealing that heís not a war hero after all. Meanwhile, with professional football all but buried and forgotten, Dodge does his best to convince Carter and his agent CC Frazier (the wickedly bemused Jonathan Pryce) to save the league. So there you have it: a solid plot mechanism, a conflict, a love triangle, and complications arising from conflicted loyalties and journalistic integrity. Throw in an offbeat cast of characters, the motley underdog team from Duluth, some zippy music (by Randy Newman, no less), zany situations (speakeasies are always a fun choice), a couple of wacky chase scenes, and some scenes of football in the mud and you have a rich, hearty comedy stew.
Clooney (and his director of photography, Newton Sigel) take loving care with each frame and the result is a visually opulent film that could serve as a model for future directors who might benefit from a lesson in timing and classic visual storytelling. Leatherheads is not merely an homage to old-school comedy, itís proof that you can still make one like they used to. Clearly these folks know how to put together a set-piece in a context of interesting characters and consistency. They donít wink and nudge, they donít condescend, they just tell a good story.
Comparisons to Cary Grant and Clark Gable (among others) are just and in no way demeaning to those icons: Clooney is certainly worthy of their company. Heís got the charm, the looks, the quick wit, and (this is the best part) heís alive. The supporting players hold their own and usually go one better (like Heather Goldenhershís flapper, or Wayne Duvallís coach) and even characters who never speak a word have great moments.
If youíre looking for deep social satire here then youíre barking up the wrong tree. This isnít Good Night and Good Luck, and it shouldnít be. If youíre looking to see a real 1930s movie, then get yourself one of those. But if youíre looking for a well-crafted consistent comedy, or even if all you want is a good laugh or two (or 10), then Leatherheads will be good to you. And in the long run, it might even be good for you. ē