TIFF Review: Born To Be Blue
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More TIFF double duty. Ethan Hawke has two films at TIFF too: Maggie's Plan and Born to be Blue. Just as Boyhood was catching fire in November, Ethan was hanging out in church basements in Sudbury, Ontario channeling his inner Chet Baker.
I was on set. Chet Baker's a pretty coveted role - Leo, River Phoenix (!), Ryan Reynolds (what?) and Brad Pitt are among those who have fought to play this part, or expressed an interest in it. Ethan knew of all this during filming. He told me he was well aware that this was one of the most coveted gigs in Hollywood - Tobey Maguire wanted it too - but he was also quick to let me know this isn't your typical biopic. Ethan warned me there would be heroin trips (Baker was a notorious heroin addict), a movie within a movie and lots of love, music and sex.
He didn't lie. This movie, about one of jazz's most prolific and tortured musicians is exactly that - a work of freeflowing jazz. Think Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas meets Walk the Line, with more race critiques and desperation. Ethan's Chet is a romantic, one who can charm the pants off of any woman he meets and keep his manager cleaning up after his messes long past the point of forgiveness. That's how he rolls.
The movie is all over the place, but it's meant to be. Based on both true and not-so-true events, Chet hits rock bottom. He's broke, lost his lady, and in jail. He gets out early to play himself in a movie about his life, but they're forced to shut down production when he gets badly beaten up by one of his dealers. His costar Jane (Carmen Ejogo) is with him at the time. When meeting as coworkers, she doesn't get why women fall for him, as somebody with all those demons. Then, while she nurses him back to health with her Florence Nightingale syndrome, she gets it. They start dating but we all know Chet can't stay clean for long. Worse? He can't even play because of how badly his mouth was hit.
As he begins to get his groove back, he struggles and it's pretty hard to watch. His friends come and go, and predictably, temptations are everywhere. Psychedelic and unconventional, Born to Be Blue commits more to its wacky narrative structure than it should. I hope Ethan Hawke gets another shot at playing Chet Baker... in a not-Waking Life way. He would be a perfect choice.