Directed by David Gordon Green and produced by Jake Gyllenhaal, STRONGER is the true story of Jeff Bauman, a Boston Marathon spectator who lost his legs above the knee during the bombings that took place in 2013.
Gyllenhaal takes on the physically demanding role as Jeff, a Costco worker who lives with his mum Patty (Miranda Richardson). After seeing his ex-girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany) who is training for the upcoming marathon, he tries to make amends by supporting her at the event. Erin later explains to his manager the reason she had broken up with him 3 times, “He doesn’t show up for anything, he’s always late.” Suffice to say, Jeff actually turns up, handmade banner in hand. As a suspicious looking man wearing dark glasses passes him, Erin slows herself down as she witnesses the two bombs exploding ahead of her.
Gyllenhaal said during the Q&A which followed the screening that “laced throughout the entire story I found all this laughter and all this huge sense of humour in the midst of all this stuff that he’s goes through”, and that is what Stronger gets right, which might sound unconventional for a film about a man losing his limbs. While it does not shy away from the new difficulties Jeff is faced with such as every day routines like showering and sitting on a toilet, and his relationship with Erin and equally being in the middle of her turbulent relationship with his mother, it finds the balance of humour alongside the hardship. Jeff’s larger than life family and friends who we are introduced to in the hospital waiting room provide light-hearted amusement throughout; Richardson is memorable as Jeff’s overpowering mother who struggles to take a step back and allow Erin to care for her son.
Gyllenhaal and Maslany are a sensational pairing, providing an honest and well-rounded account of a couple who resurrect their relationship and adapt to disability. Maslany’s Erin is just as important and crucial to the story as Gyllenhaal’s Jeff. In one of its most powerful scenes which takes place in a car, Jeff struggles with the idea of parenthood. “How am I gonna chase after him,” he says to Erin. As the two become increasingly more enraged with each other, with Erin declaring “I gave up my family for you” and she would not do the same with their baby, she leaves him in the car. What follows is difficult to watch, as Jeff drags himself across the parking lot, desperately screaming for Erin. As he bangs on the apartment entrance, the scene flashes back to the marathon; We see Jeff amongst the destruction, clutching what remains of his legs as he’s surrounded by others who are severely injured, with one passerby even stepping over him. While we are able to have a glimpse of the brutality succeeding the bombs, Stronger does not allow it to take centre stage, but rather Jeff’s journey towards recovery and its effect on those surrounding him.
Jeff is conflicted by the notion that he is a “hero” as strangers shake his hand and approach him for photos, he is simply an ordinary man who is not without fault, and we are able to see his imperfections. Stronger is a courageous story of a survivor’s strength and hope despite all odds, and it will leave you with a lingering thought that when you are having a bad day, there is always someone somewhere fighting a bigger battle, and as Jeff says, “I’m gonna be alright, so you’re gonna be alright.”
STRONGER is released in UK cinemas on December 8th 2017.