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Regarding Matt Mulhern's Duane Hopwood, I've read everything from "quietly brilliant" to "drably unfocused" -- and several insightful things in between. Me, I fall firmly with the former group: This is a mellow-yet-effective character study that exhibits some real poignancy and delivers a stunningly good performance by Friends star David Schwimmer. It's certainly not the flashiest or most exciting indie you'll ever see, but for what it is, Duane Hopwood is a winner.
Schwimmer plays the titular character, an Atlantic City casino employee who seems to be in the formative stages of outright alcoholism. Duane's estranged wife (the also excellent Janeane Garofalo) is clearly doing all she can to focus on her ex's "good side," as the couple share two daughters -- and, despite his problems, Duane's always been a pretty good dad.
But things boil over after Duane is arrested for drunk driving ... while his young daughter lies sleeping in the back seat of the car. Thus begins a herky-jerky, but decidedly downward, spiral for Duane, a guy who's smart enough to realize he's ruining his life -- but just not smart enough to avoid all the potholes.
As an honest and realistic depiction of the ways in which alcoholism can strike any "normal Joe," Duane Hopwood works exceedingly well. Those expecting any sort of 'after-school special sentiment' or Public Service finger-wagging will be sorely disappointed in Hopwood's screenplay. There are no big emotional revelations or huge dramatic screaming matches -- but the flick packs a punch all the same. It works because of its everyman banality, and not despite it.
For such a quiet and unassuming film, Duane Hopwood sure offers a lot of great little ingredients. The Atlantic City setting, for example, becomes a character unto itself, glitzy and interesting on the surface, but cold and isolated beneath. Judah Friedlander offers a colorfully entertaining supporting performance as Duane's on-again off-again buddy, a security guard who dreams of life as a comedian. And every 25 minutes or so, Mulhern and Schwimmer deliver a moment of true heart, sincerity, and intensity ... frankly, I think this is a better "alcoholism" flick than Leaving Las Vegas.
It sure as hell is a lot more subtle, anyway.
Video: The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) is about as crisp as can be expected from a low-budgeter like this one, but the picture quality is perfectly fine throughout.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, with optional subtitles available in English, French, and Spanish.
Extras: There's a laid-back and rather amusing audio commentary with writer/director Matt Mulhern and actor David Schwimmer. Both guys freely admit to being 'commentary virgins' -- but their affection for the film shines through quite well. Also included is the film's theatrical trailer.
That this excellent independent film was saddled with an R rating (for a half-dozen F-bombs), while hyper-violent studio action flicks routinely earn PG-13s ... wow. If that doesn't sum up the MPAA's hypocricy right there, I don't know what will.
Duane Hopwood comes Highly Recommended by yours truly, although if you'd rather just give it a rental first, I wouldn't blame you.