The essence of who Jeff Bauman is shines through Jake Gyllenhaal’s authentic and gritty portrayal of this feisty but soft-hearted Bostonian hero. Jeff, from the opening scene, is full of energy and spirited, willing to go out on a limb to win back Erin, the girl of his affections, played with powerful subtlety by Tatiana Maslany. His “big move” is to actually show up on time at an event, as lateness is a character flaw reflective of his immaturity and self-absorption, and has driven a wedge between them. This “event” happens to be the 2013 Boston Marathon.
“Stronger” is more than a typical journalistic-style retelling of a tragedy, it is a true narrative, continually advanced by the intrusive, realistic directing of David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) whose close-up shots never get old, serving to draw the viewer deeply into the characters’ personal experiences, especially the relationship between Jeff and Erin. We get to witness their weaknesses and strengths and how they are able to overcome tragedy, which is always of utmost interest to us all on this sometimes treacherous journey of life. Of course, there are setbacks in the healing process, but nothing is overwrought or melodramatic. Rather, there is a raw grit, not difficult to highlight through the characterization of all of Jeff’s raucous and confrontational family members, portrayed in true Bostonian fashion, as they constantly advance the message of “Boston Strong!”
In fact, the tagline of this film is: “STRENGTH DEFINES US,” which speaks to a brotherhood (can US also be read as United States?) that is emphasized and encapsulated in Jeff’s family’s love of the Boston Red Sox. The moment he is surrounded and approached by the public at a baseball game is a powerful display of unity and gratitude. Indeed, it is through recognizing how his experience is connected to so many others in a way that makes a difference that Jeff discovers “hope” as the inspiration to persevere and choose life over despair. It is a powerful message and a relevant takeaway for both a personal and national identity.
There is excessive use of the F-word in this film, in every scene, even in casual conversation, that serves as an honest depiction of a particular American culture. “Stronger” is otherwise an excellent film. You will laugh and cry and relate to the wins and the losses. In fact, on more than one occasion I was brought to tears—tears that endear us to our fellow man.