TIFF 2017: ‘Stronger’ Review

Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Erin Bauman (Tatiana Maslany) in STRONGER, an Entertainment One release. Photo credit: Scott Garfield

Scott Garfield | eOne

Stronger is based on the true, inspirational story of marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his marathon-running girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany). After losing his legs in the bombing, Jeff isn’t so much as having a hard time acclimatizing to not being able to walk, but rather the media attention. He did help the FBI identify one of the bombers, but he can’t understand why people have hailed him as a hero.

Jeff is embarrassed that he needs Erin to help him get around, but he’s even more bothered that people have made him the unofficial face of the Boston Strong movement. “Boston Strong. What does that even mean?”, he questions.

In the aftermath, Erin becomes, understandably, increasingly more frustrated with Jeff’s unwillingness to take his rehab seriously and to stand up to his pushy family, especially his mother, who coddles him and enables his bad habits. She’s uprooted her entire life for him, and he doesn’t even care.

Gyllenhaal and Maslany both put their entire heart and soul into their roles – you can see the anguish and mental struggle of both clear as day on their faces – but there’s only so much you can do with this screenplay, which I found quite clunky. (When Jeff wakes up, his brother says to him, “Your fucking legs, bro, they’re gone.” Who would say that in real life?) And it’s hard to create a story about someone who just seems so unlikable – the film starts off with Jeff’s group of friends making homophobic remarks and throughout the film he’s just a bleh kind of person. Half a body doesn’t mean you should be half a man with half a heart.

Most of the film is about Jeff struggling with his new reality, which is fine, but his switch from hopeless to determined was so sudden that it was shocking. One moment he’s crawling and crying, the next he’s taking the steps (literally) to be a better man in a montage. (Of course it was going to be a montage.) It’s so good to see Jeff get this huge personal win, but it says a lot about a film where I cried more watching the trailer than watching the actual movie.

Rating: 6/10

Public Screenings: Sept 9 10:45 am

For additional TIFF 2017 coverage, click here.

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