A couple Fridays ago, at the world premiere of Stronger at the Toronto Film Festival, Jeff Bauman walked onto the stage at Roy Thompson Hall (which, in itself, is inspiring) before the film started and addressed the crowd – a crowd already giving him a standing ovation before even seeing the film. While introducing his story, he reminded the crowd, in an almost spoilery way, that no matter how dark the story we were about to see became, just remember that he’s right here right now, talking to us. That everything we saw on-screen would turn out okay. While watching Stronger, I did have to remind myself of that a few times.
At first, I thought Bauman was talking about whether he’d live or die after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, which led to him losing both of his legs above the knee – but that’s not where the heart of the struggle comes from in Stronger. The film doesn’t dwell long on Bauman’s mortality, but instead takes us to the far depths of human depression that occurs when one day everything is fine and the next nothing is fine and there’s no rational explanation of why any of this happened. When watching Jake Gyllenhaal as Jeff Bauman, we aren’t as worried about him dying as we are his sanity.
Also, for all the praise given to Jake Gyllenhaal as an actor, he still doesn’t get nearly enough credit. How do we live in a world in which Gyllenhaal has only been nominated for one Academy Award? And even that was 12 years ago. We’ve seen actors play these types of roles before, but Gyllenhaal gives Bauman a depth we usually don’t see in movies like this. Stronger isn’t your typical “person overcomes adversity” movie – and a big reason for that, too, is the direction of David Gordon Green – but at the heart is Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany.
Oh, yes, Tatiana Maslany – we’ve also seen a lot of actors play the supportive character who are just doing their best to help, but there’s a lot going on in Maslany’s performance.