Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Rush (2013)

Ron Howard makes another adventure film for grown-up little boys

The passions, rivalries, and personalities in certain sports are so extreme that when you make a film out of them, you can only go full-tilt drama (think Undefeated as an allegory for being American) or full-tilt comedy (Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby).

Based on the Formula One racing season of 1976 and the rivalry between hellraiser James Hunt and precisionist Nikki Lauda, Rush is Talladega Nights done as straight as possible. But how does one take the laughs out of a sport whose culture of excess lends itself very naturally to parody? I’m talking about the ridiculous “F1 grid girls”, how every inch of a racing suit seem to be plastered with ads, champagne parties, and frantic bidding by various too-rich cities trying to outdo each other’s tackiness.

While we see a natural comedy with the gags taken out, Ron Howard sees in this premise another little boy’s sports adventure film with grown-up characters, in the likes of Apollo 13 as a boy’s space adventure with grown-ups, the Da Vinci Code movies as a little boy’s Scooby Doo mystery adventure with grown-ups. Howard sees something pure in the main characters and their rivalry, something primeval and timeless about wanting to go faster, something naively charming about the culture of excess—and goes for it.

Rush may not be an all-out comedy but it still is pretty funny in parts. Peter Morgan’s script turns the uncharismatic Lauda into a sympathetic character with hidden reserves of dry wit, sort of the straight man in a stand-up comedy act patiently enduring barbs and insults from his counterpart. That transforms what could have been treated as a nasty personal rivalry into the pre-match posturings of ritual combat, and sets the little boy’s adventure tone for the film.

For taking an unexpected approach towards their material, I won’t be surprised if Bruhl, Morgan, and Howard happen to get some nominations later this year.

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