Leatherheads – Review

Sometimes a good screwball comedy is chicken soup for the cinematic soul
Image Courtesy of IMPawards.com

Director: George Clooney
Notable Cast:
George Clooney, Renee Zelwegger, John Krasinski

The origins of any sport are all pretty similar. At first there was a group of guys playing a game they loved for the sheer fun of it. Then someone saw it, was entertained, and got the idea to charge for it. Then the money changes everything. For football, the ascendance of the professional game begins with a singular event: George Halas signing University of Illinois star Red Grange to the Chicago Bears for $100,000 worth of gate receipts in an era where players made roughly $100 a game. After that, the NFL would remain forever changed and what had been a rather unique era for the sport would end in favor of an early model of what has eventually become professional football as we know it. George Clooney must have a soft spot for the sport, especially its earlier days, as Leatherheads is a loving tribute to football in the sort of way only a fan of the game can provide.

Leatherheads stars Clooney as Dodge Connolly, a pro football star in an era where the collegiate game ran supreme. With his team on the verge of bankruptcy, Connolly does something unprecedented: sign the college game’s best player and biggest draw, Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski), to bolster the Duluth Bulldogs sagging fortunes and revitalize the professional game. Rutherford, who doubles as a World War I hero, is more than happy to step in and be a football hero in the same way he embraced being a war hero. But all is not what it seems, especially to Chicago Tribune reporter Lexi (Renee Zelwegger), and the burgeoning love triangle between the three complicates matters even further.

Clooney, who also directed the film, plays the film as if it were an old time farce and it works wonders on any number of levels. While it inspired more solid chuckles and guffaws as opposed to gut-busting laughs, there is plenty of good material to go around. But Leatherheads was held back after initially being set for a late 2007 release; it’s a funny film and a solid sports comedy, but it would’ve been a minor comedy in the second half of a year filled with great ones. In the first half of 2008, it stands out as one of the top comedies of what has been a lackluster 2008. But that’s not really saying much, to be honest, but George Clooney’s streak of great performance keeps up with this one.

He also directs, thus being able to get the best performance out of his star, but Clooney the actor and Clooney the director are on the same page. Clooney wisely lets his three main stars and their terrific chemistry take center stage and carry the story as opposed to trying to reinvent the wheel. This is an homage to screwball comedies of 50 years ago and Clooney the actor wisely lets the film carry itself as opposed to try and steal every scene. Zelwegger and Krasinski are both solid in their roles, blending wonderfully with Clooney, and Clooney as the director and actor both know that he alone can’t carry the film and keep it enjoyable. He doesn’t get all of the best lines or moments, which is nice to see.

The film has plenty of good comedy, which is its main selling point. This is a screwball comedy and it retains most of the sensibilities of the era in which he’s embracing, with the exception of some mildly coarse language, while also having the sort of sensibilities a modern comedy brings to the table. Leatherheads manages to keep a good brisk pace, as well; there’s never a dull or boring moment, even if there’s a mediocre one more often than not. While it’s not a perfect comedy, nor is it the best comedy of the year so far, it’s a solid one and a nice resume builder for George Clooney’s directorial career.


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