Physical humor always funny

Alex Bethke

Alex Bethke

Leatherheads is a throwback movie in more ways than one. Not only is it about professional football in 1925, but it’s also a slapstick comedy. A slapstick comedy is defined by as a type of comedy characterized by broad humor, absurd situations and vigorous, often violent action (e.g., a character being hit in the face with a frying pan or running full speed into a wall). The style is common to those genres of entertainment in which the audience suspends their belief of natural laws.

Old Charlie Chaplin films or The Three Stooges are the legendary faces of the genre. It’s a genre that I feel isn’t done very well, or often anymore, but George Clooney pulls it off nicely with his third attempt at directing. (Clooney has also directed Good Night, and Good Luck and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.)

The story starts out in Duluth, Minn., which is home of the Duluth Bulldogs. Clooney plays Dodge Connelly, the aging team captain whose life is football. The season is just getting started when the Bulldogs, and several other teams in the league, go broke and can no longer afford to pay their players. Several of the players go back to their deadbeat jobs. Dodge, knowing no other trait than football, sets out to save the league.

Dodge hears over the radio that Princeton all-star and war-hero Carter “The Bullet” Rutherford (John Krasinski, The Office, License to Wed) attracted more than 40,000 fans to a college game. So Dodge heads to Chicago to convince Carter to quit paying tuition to play football and start getting paid to play football. The conquest is a success, and Carter joins the Bulldogs, saving the team and perhaps the league.

Meanwhile, the quick-witted Chicago Tribune reporter Lexie Littleton (Renée Zellweger, Chicago, Bridget Jones’s Diary) is trying to write a story claiming Carter is no war hero at all. Being as beautiful as she is, it’s not hard for her to get Carter to trust her. However, she also catches Dodge’s eye, creating the classic love triangle.

Clooney and Zellweger have amazing chemistry on camera. Dodge is full of charm while Lexie is fast to react with her quick wit. The two go back and forth taking shots at one another several times throughout the film until Dodge finally breaks through Lexie’s defense. The way the two spar back and forth seems almost like verbal foreplay.

Believe it or not, this movie isn’t as much about football as you would think. Granted the bar brawls and football games are entertaining and provide the funny slapstick part of the movie, but the dialogue really stood out to me. Not just the words that were spoken, but the way they were spoken. I already mentioned how enjoyable it was watching Clooney and Zellweger’s scenes together, but Krasinski did a great job, too. His character was the perfect all-American guy. Krasinski makes him that guy with his perfect responses to every question from the media and his proper use of language. I’m not even sure if he swears in the movie.

Zellweger verbally nailed the part of an intelligent woman in the 1920s. Of course, her acting was over the top as it should be in slapstick, but if I had to guess how a woman talked back then, her performance would be it. Then, of course there is Clooney, who always seems charming no matter what role he plays.

This movie isn’t just about football. Clooney’s movies always seem to have this feel to them that he’s trying to tell you something else. In this film, he’s telling us that it’s fun to break the rules. It’s okay to be rebellious. The movie shows us what commercialization can do to a sport and to movies themselves. He shows us this as both Dodge Connelly and as the director of the movie.

Dodge saves professional football, but it changes in a way that is no longer fun to Dodge. So Dodge breaks the rules and has his fun anyway. Clooney broke all the rules by making a slapstick comedy in this day and age. Perhaps he was a little fed up with Hollywood and decided to break the rules and have his fun, too.