You Can't Go Wrong with a Masshole
Whenever I see an actor on a publicity tour for an "important" and inspirational drama, I understand the inclination to get earnest, especially when he or she is playing a real person whose bravery and inner strength through an ordeal should be honored. It is humble, it is respectful, and it pays tribute to its subject.
When the second Boston-Marathon-bombing movie, "Stronger," came out in fall of 2017, star Jake Gyllenhaal went a different and far more successful way in spreading awareness of the movie. He went on a roadshow with the man he was playing — Jeff Bauman, who lost both his legs in the 2013 explosion while waiting for his girlfriend at the finish line — and the pair did what any two guys hanging out a Boston bar would do: give each other shit. It was funny, it was charming, and it brought far more attention to the film than unrelenting earnestness would have.
While the pair did videos for "Ellen," the Washington Post, and many other outlets, this Between-Two-Ferns-ish video (posted on Gyllenhaal's Facebook page) got particularly huge media coverage because it's a superstorm of Things the Internet Loves.
- Celebrities being human. You feel like Jake is hanging around with a buddy: He's both taking and giving crap. And the fact that he's being humbled makes him feel all the more relatable. It makes you feel that if you hung out with Jake Gyllenhaal, it would be just like this and you'd be friends forever.
- Candid conversation. This video doesn't feel like the kind of predetermined, fake banter you'd see on an awards show. It has the social-media aura of informality.
- Massholes. As someone who grew up and went to college outside Boston, I'll admit I've been biased towards the charms of the loud Bostonian for a long time. But outside of New England, the rest of America began to embrace their frappe-chuggin' charms in the late '90s, which brought us "Good Will Hunting" ("How d'ya like dem apples?") and Sully and Denise on "SNL." Then, after Boston Rob showed up on "Survivor" in 2002, reality-show casting teams went on the hunt to get their own big-mouthed, Hahavahd-Yahd-pahking characters to be the house wiseass. (Or "Masshole," which any Masshole would consider a compliment.) Jeff Bauman has all the traits of the perfect Masshole: He's sly, charmingly dickish, instantly senses someone's Achilles' Heel and jabs at it with a shrimp fork (stole from Legal Sea Foods), and he isn't at all impressed by celebrity.
- Celebrity gossip tie-in. When, in one of his better digs, Bauman asks Gyllenhaal, "If you lost your legs in real life, do you think Taylor Swift would write a song about it?", you could almost hear the sirens going off at every blog: JAKE JUST MADE A JOKE ABOUT THE TIME HIS EX TAYLOR SWIFT WROTE "ALL TO WELL" ABOUT HIM! WE HAVE A CLICKY HEADLINE, PEOPLE! Suddenly celebrity, music and news blogs that would not normally cover an interview about a limited-release drama were writing posts about this video, exposing "Stronger" to a much wider audience.
People.com: "Jake Gyllenhaal Finally Answers Questions About Taylor Swift — Well, Kind Of."
Billboard: "Jake Gyllenhaal Discusses the Possibility of Taylor Swift Writing Another Song About Him."
MarieClaire.com: "Brace Yourselves, Because Jake Gyllenhaal Finally Answered a Question About Taylor Swift."
Would this work for any inspirational true-life drama? No: You can't really imagine, say, Susan Sarandon trading disses with Sister Helen Prejean back during "Dead Man Walking" press. This worked because of Bauman's personality and his brotherly chemistry with Gyllenhaal. And their repartee gave potential audiences a hint that "Stronger" may be about a haunting and tragic subject, but it was also a human story and not hushed-tones homework.