Bravetown Dir. Daniel Duran

[Entertainment One; 2015]

Styles: drama, music
Others: Rushmore, Bring It On Again

There’s a lot of things that make Bravetown’s craftsmanship as a fish-out-of-water story an exercise in incompetence, and then there’s one thing about it that defies all logic and reason, a detail that somehow brings the rest of the film tighter and tighter into its orbit until it all crashes together. I have to get the former out of the way first before I write about Platoon.

Bravetown announces its helmer’s capabilities straightaway, with a lengthy tracking shot through a dance club that rips off Boogie Nights so artlessly that you can rightly guess that director Daniel Duran has neither a good eye nor an original thought. Eventually, the camera lands on Josh, the club’s DJ, a high school-aged up-and-comer who (we are laboriously told) is a stone’s throw from a record deal when he overdoses in the middle of a show. His single mother (Maria Bello, and very soon, goodbye), too busy to ensure he attends his court-ordered therapy, sends him to live with his estranged father in a small town populated mostly by front lawns and American flags. After a reclusive start in school (Josh is the quiet, stern, no-personality type), he fumbles his way into mixing songs for his new high school’s dance club to use, and suddenly they go from a laughing stock to the best dancers in the state. He also manages to get caught up in a weird triangle of regret and distrust between his girlfriend Mary (also the head of the dance club, played by Kherington Payne), and his therapist, a veteran who spends entire sessions watching and screaming at soccer games (Josh Duhamel) and served with Mary’s now-deceased brother in Iraq.

No matter which scene you look at, Bravetown is boilerplate feelgood schmaltz, but as you continue to watch it, those scenes clash with each other more and more violently; the high-school-dance-club-underdog story and the fish-out-of-water story and the town-comes-to-terms-with-the-war story feel unfinished and totally incompatible, like snatches of formulas were copy-pasted into each other without anyone noticing, “Hey, wait a second, this isn’t a formula anymore. This doesn’t make any sense.” There are a lot of ways to deconstruct how Bravetown doesn’t function as a piece of storytelling, but that’s not what stuck in my mind. What stuck is, “Why is this kid so goddamned obsessed with Platoon?”

Well, why? In a very early scene, Josh climbs into bed, lights up a joint, and watches the famous scene where Willem Dafoe is gunned down by the Viet Cong. Later, he watches the movie on his dad’s TV. When he gets Mary — whose brother, Josh has learned, died in Iraq — into his bedroom, he snatches the DVD off his desk and asks, “You ever seen Platoon?” She mutters, “That’s a war movie, right?” and nervously excuses herself. After he patches things up, they somehow wind up in his room watching Platoon. She faces away, but he ignores her and stares at the screen with utter seriousness until she gets angry and leaves again.

What is wrong with this person? Of all the loose ends in the movie, Josh’s obsession with Platoon is the only one that goes not only untied, but untouched. There’s no connection hinted at, psychological or otherwise; it is just a fact, and the movie’s insistence on making a motif of it is perhaps the logical conclusion of its shortcomings, from the Boogie Nights cribbing to the grab-bag of stock plots constituting its story: Duran and writer Oscar Torres seem to be aware of movies only as a collection of individual parts, to be stared at and enjoyed simply by virtue of their existence.

One way or another, Bravetown’s moshpit of cliches are paradoxically so incompatible with each other that they eventually reach a sort of critical mass, and Platoon is somehow at the center of it all; I’m not spoiling much when I say the climax is, no exaggeration, a musical version of the self-serious pageantry of Rushmore’s Vietnam pastiche theater, only Bravetown isn’t trying to be funny. It’s as close to satire as a tongue to a cheek.

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