What do you want from the liquor store? Something sour, something sweet? Tell me on Facebook.
People love to make the drunk look like the bad guy. When the shit hits the fan, blame it on the drunk guy. This, by the way, is a stupid phrase. I mean, if you’ve piles of shit near your fan things are probably already pretty bad.
I only ever saw it happen once in real life . I learned more that day than I did in five years of high school. A) don’t take a floor fan into the bathroom, no matter how bad you think you’re planning to stink up the joint; b) don’t jump off the toilet and scream like a bitch every time you see a spider; and c) maybe don’t eat all the tacos you find in the dumpster behind Taco Bell at four a.m. Only eat a few.
Where was I? Oh, yeah, drunks. Grassfuckers always demonize drunks as bad parents. Well, the poor southern ones, anyway. Not the rich ones with nannies. Moviemakers don’t spend a lot of time looking in the mirror and talking about all the raging alcoholics in the Malibu colony whose kids get shuttled to private schools by au pairs and personal assistants while they’re shotgunning mojitos and single-malt liquors. I guess, then, they aren’t demonizing drunks, just poverty. The nerve of people to be poor. They should choose to be rich if they want to drown their misery.
I don’t have kids myself, and I’m not an alcoholic. As I’ve said before, alcoholics think they can stop whenever they want. I’m not an alcoholic because I know I can’t. If I were, though, I’d be a pretty fucking awesome dad. My very best parenting ideas come when I’m three sheets to the wind. I love children the most between my fourth and fifth Four Lokos of the morning. That’s when I call my wife’s friends and ask them to bring the kids over. We’re gonna kill ants with a magnifying glass, make a giant slip’n’slide in the hallway with trash bags and barbecue sauce. Then I’ll film them getting chased by the neighbor’s pitbull, add a little “Yakkety Sax” and put that on my YouTube channel. I get a viral hit and become so fucking rich I can hire an au pair to drive me around and everybody’s call me a movie producer, not a stinking drunk.
Joe has a poor drunk dad. It’s a southern gothic with the alkie (Gary Poulter), a son who deserves a better life, and Nicolas Cage as the troubled man with a heart of gold who tries to do right by the kid. Cage’s role as the titular Joe is well-calculated to restore his cred as a “serious” actor, to convince people he’s a guy who chooses roles for more than how much they’ll reduce his tax debt. I’d agree with the serious part; he’s got some beefy facial hair and does a lot of wincing. Like the rest of the movie, though, his emotions only range from pitch black to T-shirt-from-Walmart-and-washed-a-few-times black.
Joe is an ex-con with an authority problem. He kills trees for a living. He’s a got crew of day laborers he leads through the woods of East Texas poisoning old trees so a lumber company can plant newer, more profitable pines. There’s something symbolic in this. It’s that kind of movie. Ty Sheridan is Gary, a teenager with a lousy father (Gary Poulter, a real life homeless drunk) looking for work. Joe hires Gary and sees how shitty his dad is. The family squats in an abandoned home and Pops squanders what little money he can grab getting fall down drunk near the tracks.
Larry Brown, who wrote the novel this movie’s based on, didn’t know shit about blacking out by the railyard. Joe makes it look like it’s all lousy and embarrassing. In reality, it’s kind of fun. Until you’ve done it, you have no idea how exhilarating it is to fall down on the tracks, too loaded to move, certain your legs are gonna get flattened like a penny by the next locomotive, only to wake up sometime later propped against a tree with everything intact and some stupid kid saying you owe him five bucks. You can move your legs again, so you get up and run before that stupid kid gets his bread.
Brown was from Mississippi and he wrote a lot of grim tales about miserable poor people. But in the hands of director David Gordon Green, Joe sort of feel like the equivalent of a young rapper who thinks the only way to get street cred is by making his shit grittier and tougher than anyone else’s. This is William Faulkner turned to 11. Hell, Joe even has a mute in it. In search of authenticity, Green amps up the grit, darkens it all, and rubs a little coal on the cheeks of all the character who are allowed to be nothing but sad and angry.
Cage’s Joe battles old demons, visit whorehouses, has a pit bull he sics on dogs he hates, gets shot by an old enemy, gets hassled by cops, makes bad decisions, gets shot and then fixes his own bullet wound while really cranking up the grimace, and, or course takes the kid under his wing. He’s kind of a fucking idiot. And since the movie won’t show any light, it’s never clear what keeps him going, what he actually likes.
In the end, of course, he martyrs himself. That was inevitable. But what bugged the piss out of me is that the movie plays it like melodrama. While Joe sits bleeding, those who supposedly love him don’t rush to save him. Instead, they stand around and do some hardcore dramatic acting. The movie wants us to think it’s real, but it’s really just sentimental and a bit corny.
Sheridan’s Gary is pretty much like all the movie kids that big, saintly Hollywood wants to rescue from the families they made up. He’s honest to a fault, a hard worker, tough, and beaten regularly by that mean old drunk pappy. If I were the pappy in the movie, he’d be smothered in BBQ and happy as could be. After Joe dies, the kid lives on. Only, he gets a new job and it’s not killing trees but tending to the new saplings, helping them grow big and strong, working for a man who knew and respected Joe. See kids, symbolism is just that fucking easy. And sappy.
People are gonna fall all over themselves to say great things about Gary Poulter, a homeless drunk that Green picked off the streets to play the abusive dad. He isn’t terrible, but the role isn’t complex. Like most of the movie, it’s shaded way too dark by Green because dark feels real to phonies. Poulter died after the movie was made, so all the assholes in Hollywood can blow his trumpet and feel like they cared without lifting a God damn finger.
It’s awfully sweet of the assholes that make movies to think of those who live in trailers, basement apartments and city parks. It’s a thoughtful gesture to show characters who like brown liquor and fruit-flavored malt liquors. I just wish they’d actually speak to us first. Two Fingers for Joe.