I was born in Detroit and I spent the first 22 years of my life in Southern Michigan before I graduated from Michigan State. A few months after that I moved to Nashville, so I’ve been living in the Southeast for the last 25 years. I’m including this information so you understand that I’m not a native Southerner, and I don’t really have a dog in the fight. But I do know a lot about living in the South and experiencing the derisive ways the region is addressed by Hollywood, by television, by pop culture in general. The truth is every region has its popular negative stereotypes: the rude New Yorker, the spaced-out Los Angeleano, the dumb hick Southerner. Logan Lucky didn’t offend me for indulging white rural stereotypes so much as for only indulging white rural stereotypes – ignorant, criminal but somehow pure and vital in their unrepentant backwardness. Of course, cinema loves to give us noble savages and magical Negroes, but Logan Lucky reminds us that lenses have always loved toothless grannies, barefoot dancers or some hungry kid shredding a banjo. Hollywood, America – capitalism loves to see poor people smile.
Logan Lucky is director Steven Soderbergh’s first feature since he “retired” after releasing Side Effects (2013). When I read that Soderbergh was actually going to quit filmmaking I was happy about the announcement. I have real respect for the filmmaker’s prolificacy and impressive balancing of bigger budget, mainstream projects with small arthouse productions. Lots of filmmakers speak to this ideal, but Soderbergh has made good on using his commercial work to push his much more creative, independent productions into being. I like films Sex, Lies and Videotape, Kafka, Traffic, Bubble, and the director’s Spalding Gray projects a lot. I also think Soderbergh is ultimately overrated, and that’s why I wasn’t all busted-up when he said he was retiring, explaining that, “Movies don’t matter anymore.” And when it comes to movies like Logan Lucky, I couldn’t agree more.
Soderbergh’s return to the big screen is sometimes a fun heist movie. The kiddie pageant subplot reminded me of Little Miss Sunshine, and Adam Driver as a one-handed bartender nails a few line readings that had me laughing out loud. That said, Logan is mostly not funny, which is a huge problem because the whole movie can be considered just one long redneck joke: a corny-copia of bad Southern accents (check); camo, trucker hats, tube tops, big hair (check); spontaneous a capella performance of John Denver’s coal country classic “Country Roads” (check); regular consumption of vending machine hard-boiled eggs (check); NASCAR (check); one-handed bartender (check). If they don’t get gizzards-and-giggles comedian Jeff Foxworthy to do a commentary track on the Blu-ray release, somebody should get lit on fire in a trailer home. You know, for YouTube!
There’s something even more cynical in the patronizing way screenwriter Rebecca Blunt tries to ground these laughable characters in her witless story with realistic flourishes that muster all the grace of an ass kicking a fencepost: Adam Driver predictably lost his hand while he was serving in the Middle East. His brother was a star quarterback whose dreams were shattered along with his right knee – can we cue the Springsteen yet? If you look up Rebecca Blunt on IMDB you’ll find that the name is an alias for the yet-unidentified writer of Logan Lucky. I totally get why this person might want to remain anonymous. This is not storytelling. This is poor-nography.
If you wanna see a great movie about poor white people in the Southeast, you should watch The Other Side (2105). That movie falls between documentary and narrative film: it involves scripting and variously organized scenes in the style of a reality television program, but it captures real people living in a real Louisiana community where they indulge their real addictions, speak their real opinions and manage their real relationships with family, friends and foes. The real world captured in The Other Side is a brutal, harrowing, very scary place that’s reflected in an often-shocking, nearly X-rated film. That said, it seems that world of methamphetamine, alcoholism, broken people, broken families, scarred veterans, lost prosperity and lost hope all adds up to a two hour joke to Soderbergh and Blunt. These filmmakers’ jeering generalizations and simplistic stereotypes only reveal their ignorance of the complex webs of economy, history, culture and tradition that inform the struggles of poor white people in the Southeast. Bless their hearts.
Logan Lucky is now showing in wide release.
Joe Nolan is a critic, columnist and performing singer/songwriter based in East Nashville. Find out more about his projects at www.joenolan.com.