David Schwimmer stars in writer/director Matt Mulhern’s engaging and heartwarming film “Duane Hopwood,” which screened at the sixth annual Woodstock Film Festival on Friday, September 30th. Set against the backdrop of approaching winter in the stark world of Atlantic City in the off-season, “Duane” attempts to rebuild his life after being pulled over for drunk driving.
Mulhern’s film opens with a touching montage of Duane and his family set to the poignant music of Pete Yorn that shows the dissolution of Duane’s marriage. Janeane Garofalo plays Duane’s ex, Linda, with a beautiful understatement that shows her emerging complexity as an actress. When Duane is caught driving drunk with his young daughter in the backseat, Linda threatens to take away Duane’s visitation rights. Wearing shockingly blonde hair and little make-up, Garofalo manages to capture Linda’s beauty and strength, and her hope that her ex can pull his life together.
Schwimmer’s Duane is performed with a surprising sincerity and depth that has been missing from his earlier works.
Mulher’s wonderful script deftly portrays the desperation of Duane’s plight. As Duane sits in court the day after his arrest faced with the prospect of losing his license and his family, the Judge says with regal sternness, “Things could be a lot worse.” To which Schwimmer’s character replies with a hint of “Friends” Ross Geller-timing, “They could?” And so begins Duane’s weeklong journey of redemption that builds to Thanksgiving Day.
Schwimmer’s Duane is performed with a surprising sincerity and depth that has been missing from his earlier works. Playing the role of a thirty-something pit boss at Caesar’s Palace, Schwimmer’s drunk is both pathetic and loveable. You can’t help but like this guy who has to ride to work on his bike in bone-chilling Atlantic breezes and who takes pity on an obnoxious gambler who eventually hits the jackpot. Even when Duane is at his worst, like when he explodes in rage in front of Linda and her new beau, whom he calls “Jogging Bob,” and when he walks out on his first AA meeting, Duane is still likeable. Schwimmer manages to capture a man who struggles to find normalcy in a world where greeting drag queen co-workers and getting off work at noon are commonplace.
Mulhern has wisely surrounded Duane with a cast of engaging characters, most notably the gay neighbor Fred who invites Duane to Thanksgiving dinner, played with perfect timing by veteran talk show host Dick Cavett and Duane’s sympathetic barkeep, Gina, played with touching simplicity by Susan Lynch. As Duane’s alcoholism deepens, we begin to see yet another character emerge—that of Atlantic City herself, captured in stunning beauty by cinematographer Mauricio Rubinstein. The cold landscapes that surround Duane parallel the growing detachment he feels from his previous life.
In the end, Mulhern and Schwimmer have created a poignant story of one man coming to terms with his imperfect life. Equal parts cautionary tale and inspirational drama, “Duane” is the perfect film for the upcoming holiday season. It reminds us all that families exist in many forms and that every man deserves a second chance.