Leatherheads the new film direct by and starring that most affable of affable stars George Clooney is a fanciful lark. One that I enjoyed, sometimes tremendously, and certainly enough. With Renee Zellweger, John Krasinski and Jonathon Pryce in tow, Clooney shoots for the screwball comedies of yesteryear and hits pretty darn close; a relative once removed.
So where does the film miss? There’s a misconception I think that pops its head into the film on occasion, maybe that Clooney has about the screwball genre as a whole, that we need to see realism…that these characters should ever be grounded enough to relate to on a personal level. They don’t need to be. To do this he slows down the dialogue to a snails pace and lets the actors react at a speed not befitting of a whip smart comedy.
My first thought when ms Zelwegger as the brash Lexie Littleton steps into her boss’s office to be assigned the story of getting the truth about the war hero and football star Carter Rutherford, a dashing Krasinski who has quite the film career ahead of him, and the dialogue slowed way down was that maybe Clooney wanted to take the time to get into it before giving us the goods. A miscalculation. If you’re going to go for it, go for it, why ever play it safe?
Because when Lexie and Jimmy “Dodge” Connelly, Clooney continuing to play the weathered hero with gumption, finally meet and the dialogue kicks into overgear setting in motion a love triangle reminiscent of The Philadelphia Story you wished it had been that way from the get go. And then when Dodge and Carter start butting heads the story almost forgets what it was afraid to do in the very beginning. The only thing that was disappointing was the treatment or dismissal of the “triangle” by the third act. One of the characters kind of disappears off the map and has less to do with the conclusion than I would have liked.
That isn’t to say the movie is ever off. Aside from those dialogue blips (I wish they’d closed those curtains just a touch faster) Clooney and co have the comic timing of the greats. Leatherheads got laughs out of me from first scene to last to be quite honest, and sometimes and very unexpected things, like a cow.
Clooney as a director excels and it shows in this film, the look and feel – the time period – is captured beautifully. Clooney as comedic actor is a joy to watch as he has been specifically in Oh, Brother Where Art Thou. It’s nice to see those two aspects of this artist meld. It brings about some absolutely goofy scenes and some scenes of great beauty and delicacy, and both are exactly necessary to pull off a film like this.
What he does get 100 percent correct, is by not allowing the story to drive the action – the beginnings of football – he captures that screwball feel by letting the characters relationships drive the story. And in doing so has made a comedy that stands far above most of the other more modern, dimwitted comedies we have to suffer through.