January 11, 2018 – Sam Elliot is an iconic actor, the quintessential cowboy figure and voice in movies such as “Tombstone.” His distinctive voice is heard in Ram Truck commercials. He plays a similar kind of actor, named Lee Hayden, in this movie, which opens and closes with him recording commercial voice-overs in a studio.
Lee is a divorced actor whose best friend is a former actor, Jeremy Frost (played by Nick Offerman of “The Founder”) who supplies him with marijuana. He has little contact with his ex-wife, Valarie Hayden (played by Elliot's wife, Katharine Ross of “Donnie Darko”) or his estranged daughter, Lucy (Krysten Ritter of “Listen Up Philip”).
Lee had one performance in his long career he was proud of, a western called “The Hero.” He hasn't been in a movie in a long time. He drifts along until he finds out from his doctor that he has terminal cancer.
He begins drinking heavily and taking drugs as he tries to cope with the news about his health and tries to decide on his treatment options, which include maybe taking a chance on a major operation. Lee tries to reconnect with his ex-wife and daughter, but can't bring himself to tell them about his cancer. Instead, he tells them he is going to make a new movie.
In the midst of all this, a western appreciation society asks Lee to attend a ceremony in his honor where he is to be presented with a lifetime achievement award. Lee's daughter cannot attend, so he asks a recent acquaintance, stand up comic Charlotte Dylan (played by Laura Prepon of “The Girl on the Train”) to go to the ceremony with him.
Addled by drugs and alcohol, Lee makes a bizarre acceptance speech that goes viral on social media. Suddenly, there is renewed interest in him and he starts getting movie offers again. When Charlotte lets Lee know she is romantically interested in him, Lee asks her how old she is. He ought to know better than that, but he really seems to be bothered by her youth.
Lee, who still hasn't told anyone about his cancer, makes a date with his daughter to tell her, but gets wasted on drugs and stands her up. For his daughter, it is just the latest in a very long line of disappointments. Finally, Lee can't put things off any longer. He has to decide if he is going to tell the people closest to him about the cancer, or go it alone. He has to decide if he will fight the cancer, or simply give up on life.
Sam Elliot and Laura Prepon both give fine performances in this movie. Writer-director Brett Haley uses a number of fantasy and dream sequences in the film, including a number which have Lee back into a Western movie, which is probably “The Hero” movie he is famous for. Sometimes these fantasy sequences merge with reality. I imagine the idea is that the actor who plays the hero is trying to be the hero of his own life.
The plot of this film seems overly busy with all the movie-within-a-movie sequences to go with the drama and the emotional struggles, career choices, drug problems and romance. It did not seem to me that all these plot elements worked together. At the same time, some of Lee's personal relationships in the film seemed less than fully developed. The strength of the performances by Sam Elliot and Laura Prepon are enough to give it a pass, however. This film rates a C+.
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