Thursday, July 4, 2013

7 Random Thoughts I Had About Matthew McConaughey After Watching "Mud"

1. After seven years of living abroad, I still don't understand why some films get a foreign release before others. Yes, I know Mud was well-received at Sundance, and it was a Palme d'Or contender at Cannes, but it arrived in U.S. theaters in April on a limited basis with relatively little fanfare, despite the big names of Matthew McConaughey (top billed) and Reese Witherspoon (settling for the "and" honors to the right) above the title. I didn't even know the film existed until I read a review of it two weeks ago on the day it came out in Bangkok. Meanwhile, I'm still waiting for The Great Gatsby.

I imagine that foreign releases are determined based on the drawing power of the concept and the stars (which would explain why The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp as Tonto, is coming out on July 4 here as it is in the States), so does this mean that McConaughey is considered a bigger draw in Thailand than Leonardo DiCaprio and F. Scott Fitzgerald?

2. Last year when I suggested, in writing, that McConaughey's quadruple play in Magic Mike, Bernie, The Paperboy and Killer Joe would score him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Magic Mike, a friend objected. "No way," he insisted. "He was just playing himself again. He always plays himself." It's a charge that's recently been leveled at Oscar darling George Clooney, and I see the point, especially since McConaughey, born in Texas, specializes in characters with a Southern twang.

But it doesn't necessarily preclude Oscar love. Katharine Hepburn won four Oscars for spending her career playing variations on a patrician theme, something that her lover and frequent costar Spencer Tracy, who spent much of his own career sticking to a certain dignified persona, knew a lot about. And if Oscar could finally notice Sandra Bullock for simply putting a Southern twist on her sassy Miss Congeniality act in The Blind Side, there's no reason why McConaughey as McConaughey can't score him some Oscar gold (or at the very least, a nomination), too.

3. But it might not have to. I'm convinced that 2013 might finally be McConaughey's year for some Oscar glory. He lost 38 pounds to play a homophobic druggie with AIDS in Dallas Buyers Club, which is due in the Oscar-friendly month of December. (Fun fact: His Magic Mike character was named Dallas.) How far from his regular onscreen routine can he get? If he can somehow still make such a specific against-type role yet another Matthew McConaughey variation, maybe he'll deserve an Oscar just for that.

4. Is this the first time Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon have appeared in the same film? What took them so long? They're two age-appropriate A-list actors with a similar Southern energy; it seems like a no-brainer to put them in a movie together and watch the sparks fly. But it'll have to be another movie. Although they played lovers in Mud, they didn't actually share any scenes together, not even in flashback. The closest thing we got to an onscreen duet was them waving at each other from a distance, but if the look on McConaughey's face was any indication, they'd be on fire together.

5. As soon as I saw Mud onscreen for the first time wearing that crisp white shirt, which became a symbolic conversation piece in the film, I knew it would be only a matter of time before he took it off, and he didn't disappoint. The most beautiful thing about McConaughey's upper torso is now natural it looks. He's toned without appearing like the too-sculpted result of a gym obsession, like this guy. His body is like Reese Witherspoon's beauty -- admirable, accessible, aspirational. It's easier to appreciate because it's not totally out of our leagues, or reach.

6. The chipped front tooth was a nice touch to make McConaughey seem less like a perfect romantic lead, but good grief, Mud was a homeless fugitive living in a boat in a tree who ate like a caveman. How did he get his teeth so gleaming white? Did he have a pistol in one back pocket and a toothbrush, toothpaste and floss in the other. His hair looked pretty dirty, but I still wanted to run my hands through it. Even Ellis and Neckbone, the two teenage boys who befriended him (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland), though clearly budding heterosexuals, seemed a little smitten, which was probably part of the point.

The romantic streak of a homeless fugitive living in a boat in a tree is a lot more likely to garner support from strangers when he comes in a package that looks like Matthew McConaughey. But there's still no reason why he should have looked better groomed than Ellis's dad (nicely played by Ray McKinnon, whom I liked as the coach in the aforementioned The Blind Side).

Brad Pitt has a similarly rakishly handsome quality (his star-making turn in Thelma & Louise easily could have been handled by McConaughey to similar pulse-accelerating effect), but his talent has never been questioned, partly, I assume, because he's not afraid to get ugly on the job. I hope McConaughey really goes there in Dallas Buyers Club and doesn't just stop at the excessive weight loss.

7. I suppose that as with the title character's supporters in Mud, part of my appreciation for McConaughey is based on how he looks. Not just the dimples and the killer abs, but the fact that he's my age (44 on November 4), and he still looks at least 10 years younger. He gives me hope for myself. But with Benjamin Button himself (Pitt) finally aging in the right direction, starting to show some wear and tear on the cusp of 50, I'd better enjoy the view while it lasts.
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