Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Big Screen Angst: Emile Hirsch as Jay Adams in Lords of Dogtown

I've run into this quandary before: is it weird to angst report on a character based on a real person? I decided with 50/50 that it wasn't too weird because a) the 'based on a real person' aspect was fairly loose and b) it had a super happy ending. But take another of my favorite movies: Control. It tells the pretty damn true story of Joy Division's Ian Curtis and, spoiler alert, it ends with his suicide. Rambling on and on about how sexy Sam Riley is in that movie seems...tacky. 

There's a way to do it where I basically just praise the performance and avoid all silliness - but then is it even worth doing? Silly is sort of my bag. Which leads me to today's post. It's somewhere between 50/50 and Control on the appropriate spectrum. But I just dig it so much, I decided to do it.

Emile Hirsch Jay Adams in Catharine Hardwicke Lords of Dogtown Emile Hirsch as Jay Adams in Lords of Dogtown Jay Adams Lords of Dogtown
Meet Jay Adams. The real Jay Adams was around fourteen when the events in the movie actually took place. Based entirely on what's said about him in the documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, he was a rebellious, mischievous, punk. Which - you know - means he essentially defined skateboard culture. No biggie.

Emile Hirsch Jay Adams in Catharine Hardwicke Lords of Dogtown Emile Hirsch as Jay Adams in Lords of Dogtown
But the scripted version of this same story turns real people into digestible characters who we understand quickly and follow as they arc over the course of two hours.  I don't think Lords of Dogtown Jay has all that much to do with Dogtown and Z-Boys Jay. And I'm not knocking it for that - scripted stories are scripted. The people do what the writer says. That's kind of the game. But in Lords of Dogtown, Jay has a screwed up mom and a crush on a girl. Those elements are almost exclusively what define him. And as characters go, you know, he's an angsty one.

Emile Hirsch Jay Adams in Catharine Hardwicke Lords of Dogtown Emile Hirsch as Jay Adams in Lords of Dogtown Jay Adams Lords of Dogtown
We learn early in the story that Jay's mom has almost no money. She's a woman with a good heart who loves her son, but she's not entirely together all of the time. Jay is established as the adult in the family - a role which doesn't entirely gel with who he'd rather be. He's a surfer. He's a kid. But these kids have problems. And maybe - just maybe - their summertime pastime will be their solution.

Emile Hirsch Jay Adams in Catharine Hardwicke Lords of Dogtown Emile Hirsch as Jay Adams in Lords of Dogtown Jay Adams Lords of Dogtown
The Z-Boys are formed. Jay is the most daring skater and the least interested in fame. But he does want to take care of his mother - which means he can't totally ignore the potential success that's coming their way.

Emile Hirsch Jay Adams in Catharine Hardwicke Lords of Dogtown Emile Hirsch as Jay Adams in Lords of Dogtown Jay Adams Lords of Dogtown
The angst is upped a level when Jay's mom's boyfriend leaves. He's a good guy - and you get the impression he took some of the pressure off Jay. He bequeaths his surfboard to Jay. And once he's gone, Jay takes his anger out on the one thing he left behind.

Emile Hirsch Jay Adams in Catharine Hardwicke Lords of Dogtown Emile Hirsch as Jay Adams in Lords of Dogtown Jay Adams Lords of Dogtown
And the girl. (The totally fictional girl - I might add). The movie starts with her choosing Jay's BFF Stacey. But from the beginning, she's got more fire in her than straight-edge, hard working Stacey. And Jay keeps his eye on her until he's got his chance. 

Emile Hirsch shirtless Jay Adams in Catharine Hardwicke Lords of Dogtown Emile Hirsch as Jay Adams in Lords of Dogtown Jay Adams Lords of Dogtown
Yeah... this whole shirtless skaterboy dance - that would have won me over too.

Emile Hirsch as Jay Adams in Catharine Hardwicke Lords of Dogtown Emile Hirsch as Jay Adams in Lords of Dogtown Nikki Reed as Kathy Alva
So Jay hooks up with Kathy and they're rebellious and young and wild together. I think someone should write The Jay and Kathy movie. Two impoverished teenagers living in Venice in the 70s have a wild summer of love. Maybe I'll write it. But, you know, not call it The Jay and Kathy movie...

Emile Hirsch Jay Adams in Catharine Hardwicke Lords of Dogtown Emile Hirsch as Jay Adams in Lords of Dogtown Jay Adams Lords of Dogtown
As the team gets more and more attention, Jay does all he can to avoid the hype. Tony wants to make money and get famous. Stacey wants to be responsible and begin a legit career. Jay's sole ambition is to help his mom. Which is admirable but also a waste of a huge opportunity. You see this kid losing before he even begins the game. And it's sad.

Emile Hirsch Jay Adams in Catharine Hardwicke Lords of Dogtown Emile Hirsch as Jay Adams in Lords of Dogtown
Emile Hirsch Jay Adams in Catharine Hardwicke Lords of Dogtown Emile Hirsch as Jay Adams in Lords of Dogtown Jay Adams Lords of Dogtown
His friends all achieve success while Jay is left behind. They become casual acquaintances who see each other at the occasional skate competition. The movie almost seems to make a case that the dissolving of the team leaves Jay hanging in the wind - forced to find new friends and new methods of escape. 

Emile Hirsch Jay Adams in Catharine Hardwicke Lords of Dogtown Emile Hirsch as Jay Adams in Lords of Dogtown Jay Adams Lords of Dogtown
Emile Hirsch Jay Adams in Catharine Hardwicke Lords of Dogtown Emile Hirsch as Jay Adams in Lords of Dogtown Jay Adams Lords of Dogtown
Unfortunately, the story abandons its Hollywood arcs in favor of what really happened with Jay. The mom storyline is essentially dropped and Jay fades into the background of the movement with fictitious Kathy still by his side.

Emile Hirsch shirtless Jay Adams in Catharine Hardwicke Lords of Dogtown Emile Hirsch as Jay Adams in Lords of Dogtown Jay Adams Lords of Dogtown
Toward the end of the film, Jay and Skip share a moment in burned out Pacific Ocean Park Pier. It's the poignant end of an era. Jay's friends are gone - and not just literally. They're no longer the care free surf kids they once were. Skip's business is about to be lost. Jay has essentially failed at capitalizing on this thing they were all a part of.

Emile Hirsch cries Jay Adams in Catharine Hardwicke Lords of Dogtown Emile Hirsch as Jay Adams in Lords of Dogtown Jay Adams Lords of Dogtown
And I have to mention Emile Hirsch. He's great. Angry, vulnerable, occasionally goofy, and utterly lost. He adds a lot of dimension to a character who is somewhat thinly scripted on paper. The story has a lot of characters and a lot of time to cover - and Emile Hirsch turns Jay into the standout. And like with Imaginary Heroes, he sure can do angst.

Emile Hirsch shaved head as Jay Adams in Catharine Hardwicke Lords of Dogtown Emile Hirsch as Jay Adams in Lords of Dogtown
Emile Hirsch shaved head as Jay Adams in Catharine Hardwicke Lords of Dogtown Emile Hirsch as Jay Adams in Lords of Dogtown
The film doesn't want to end on a total downer, so it reunites the boys for one last pool session. But the real Jay Adams went on to have various problems with drugs and jail. When you watch the documentary and you see the life and energy in these kids, it's heartbreaking that each and every one of them didn't find their way to success and happiness. It basically leaves me with the feeling that adulthood sucks and life is unfair. So...yeah. Angst?

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