I’ve been in LA for six years and some pixie dust has inevitably landed on my shoulders; a few wrap parties, a screening of a short or a documentary, a celebrity sighting on the Main Street in Santa Monica… It is not unusual, as we all know some people who work in the industry. Yesterday was the first time I was in the big studio lot, though, experiencing the glamorous side of my new home from the inside.
I was at Warner Brothers studios in Burbank for the screening of “The Judge”, the day before the movie was to be released in theaters. A visitor’s pass in hand, I walked through the lot along the familiar-looking New York City brownstones, banks, and post offices, windowless vehicles filled with tourists rumbling away down the cobblestone streets.
Once inside the theater, all noises stopped, the Technicolor blue of the southern California sky immediately forgotten. As the lights dimmed and the familiar logo appeared on the screen in front of me, I felt a surge of excitement that used to engulf me when I was a child back in Serbia and still believed in the magic of Hollywood.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I liked the casting of Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Junior as the estranged father and son. By the end, I did not know if I should laugh or cry. David Dobkin’s movie is an emotional family drama filled with scenes reminiscent of “Kramer vs. Kramer”, “Terms of Endearment”, and “Rain Man”, interspersed with Downey’s fast and venomous repratees and belly-aching jokes.
Robert Duvall was perfect as an intimidating pater familias, a strict and fair small-town judge who slowly falls apart after his wife’s sudden death. His son Hank is a sleek, unscrupulous big-city attorney who defends rich white-colar criminals without remorse, but at home, his marriage is in shambles. He returns home after many years of voluntary exile to attend his mother’s funeral, but without her acting like glue for this dysfunctional family, and the judge suddenly finding himself accused of murder, the ugly floats to the surface and the family unravels.
There are a few predictable scenes and clichés (like in-your-face-obvious parallel between the tornado brewing while the family drama explodes), and some subplots that do not contribute to the story (like the ex-girlfriend and the her daughter, who could be Hank’s), as well as flashbacks intended to patch the holes and “tell” us what transpired, but I was willing to close my eyes to the imperfections and go with the gut feeling. And my gut was clenched.
This story was my story and the story of many of us who have to make peace with out parents. Hollywood likes happy endings and in the movie Hank manages to find his closure and understand the reasons for all the hurt. We all crave that, but in reality it does not happen that often. And even though I knew that in the end Hank and his dad would reconcile, I was rooting for him, sending him telepathic messages to just shut it, warning him that once they are gone, they are gone forever.
After the movie ended, the producer (and Robert Downey’s wife) Susan Downey joined us for a chat. It was illuminating to find out how a project like this starts, develops, matures, and ends up on the screen for everyone to see. For the audience, it’s approximately one hundred minutes of an uninterrupted story, but in reality it’s a process that lasts several years, that comes together in pieces, each one thoughtfully put together.
Go see the movie. It will make you run to hug you mom or dad really tightly. And if you are at odds with your parents, it will make you determined to seek the answers, to be more patient and tolerant, and to let go of the past that is hurting everyone. Now, give me a handkerchief so that I can cry in peace.