The Chicago Cubs and the overarching “loveable loser” concept that defines much of the Cubs fanbase runs parallel to what Fredrik Bond’s debut feature, Charlie Countryman, is all about. With the film initially set in the city and a somewhat prominent plot device involving the Chicago Cubs, the concern over those cubbies are well-documented. I should note that despite being a Chicagoan, I have absolutely no allegiance to the Cubs or the Southside’s White Sox. The sport of baseball itself is, to put it bluntly, boring. But I’ve always been fascinated by the media perception and self-delusion that much of the Cubs fanbase has when it comes to their team - a team that’s rarely decent and more often than not ceases playing come October. But in spite of it all, the concept of being that “loveable loser” brings its vocal fanbase back for season after season of punishment. The titular character of Charlie Countryman - played by Shia LaBeouf - is a Chicago native and adheres a similar cycle of punishment. Attempting to reconcile the death of his mother, he ventures off on a journey only to encounter more death. The cycle continues and yet he maintains a douchebag swagger in the face of total and complete failure - kind of the embodiment of Cubs fans pouring out of one of Wrigleyville's many bars.
Charlie Countryman is a terrible film. It presents a series of situations meant to strike profound chords of introspection but comes across as the ramblings of college freshman after a days’ worth of Ethics 101. Consider this situation: Charlie is advised by his mother, in ghost form, to go to Bucharest. Her reasoning? It’s a specific enough place, laying down the groundwork for a faux-existential journey of self-discovery. Critical details outlining Charlie’s social status are omitted: he’s somewhere between being able to buy a quick coach ticket to Bucharest and incapable of paying off a tab of three drinks and a lap dance.
Specificity is by no means a requirement in film. Hell, I’m in the midst of a Claire Denis retrospective where specific plot details are held at the door along with my ticket stub. But suggestion and repetition can be useful tool in developing some measure of thematic importance. Charlie Countryman initially suggests that the trials and tribulations that will befall its character is the result of combating with the struggles of death. There’s something truly interesting in the idea of a man being guided by the final voices of the dead he encounters, where death is essentially provoking a journey of self-discovery. But that concept is disposed of for a nonsensical and befuddling relationship drama, compounded by tropes of gangster and stoner films. I suppose it can be considered admirable that Bond, in his first film, would cast such a wide net. He miscalculates severely though, where a lack of specificity fails to allow Charlie Countryman’s many moving parts to ever connect.
The finer details of Matt Drake’s screenplay are abysmal even if some general concepts are commendable. But it’s Bond’s bloated direction, from his overdependence on slow motion, quick cuts, and indie music, which drown out so much of the film. We’re watching a film about a loser attempting to restore order in life after the loss of a loved one. But the picture never validates its character actually deserving that moment of introspection. From dosing out rhetoric on love and the need of togetherness, Charlie’s faux philosophy is mistaken as charming - a crucial mistake. The many scenes where he’s facing trouble strike me as well-deserved moments of punishment but there’s only so many scenes you can watch where Shia LaBeaof is getting his ass kicked until you wonder if it’s him being punished, or you.