Writing Is Hard Work

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  • Roger Colby

"Stillwater" Hits Different for Parents of Adult Children

Last night I was able to see an advanced screening of the film Stillwater starring Matt Damon and written by Marcus Hinchey, Noe Debre, Thomas Bidegain, and written and directed by Tom McCarthy.

In the film, partially set in Stillwater, OK (which is right around the corner from my house) Matt Damon plays Bill Baker a rough neck whose daughter (Abigail Breslin) is serving time in Marseilles, France for a murder for which she has maintained her innocence. I'll have to say that seeing all those familiar haunts in the film, from the local news van (KFOR) to Sonic Drive-In, to the OSU marching band was exciting. I know that more and more films are being shot in Oklahoma mainly because of the tax incentives we offer, but we have some lovely locations.

That being said, the film is really a story of struggle and the hard knocks of life. "Life is brutal," says Alison Baker (Breslin), and yes it truly is. Bill Baker (Damon) is in every way a seemingly stereotypical Oklahoma rough neck, bouncing from the boom and bust oil fields to demolition jobs after a tornado. I use the word "seemingly" because Damon has nailed the personality, demeanor and character of many men I know from rural Oklahoma towns. A tough guy with heart, he cares for his ailing mother (Deanna Dunigan) who drags around an oxygen tank and is Bill's anchor in the United States when he goes to Marseilles to visit his daughter in prison. The plot shifts here when he arrives at the prison for a visit where Alison sends Bill on a journey that will test his ability to "not be a screw up".

This is a story about raising adult children and the struggles of doing things well for them while they are in your care. We, as parents, try very hard to be good ones, but often fail this task because we make our own mistakes, do things seen as hypocritical in our child's minds, and sometimes harm them without really meaning to do any harm. Bill probably had good intentions raising his daughter, but when she broke from him and went to Marseilles to "get as far away from him as she could", she magnified problems like being an absent father, him not dealing with her mother's suicide, and their overall dysfunctional home.

The movie contains some stellar writing, mainly in the relation to the audience of the culture of Marseilles, and the clash of Oklahoma rough neck culture that is peacefully brought to France. Bill moves in with Virginie, a French theater actress (Camille Cotin) and her adorable daughter Maya (Lilou Siavaud). Bill soon falls for Virginie, and for her daughter Maya, and in his relationship with the little girl he seems to desire a "do-over" with raising a child. The question of his propensity to "screw it up" hangs over his head throughout the film, however, and creates a powerful aura of tension throughout, climaxing at a devastating truth at the end.

Overall, the reason this hit so hard with me was that it is about a dad trying to come to terms with having an adult child and what happens when those adult children make poor choices that land them in deep water. Try as we might, we can do little to nothing about the problems in which our adult children get themselves wedged. It's not like they have a skinned knee or a bully is picking on them at school. They make their own decisions, and we have to love them through it because we often can do nothing to change the mistakes they make.

The final scene in this film made me weep, mainly because I felt just like Bill Bates as he stood looking at his daughter after everything seemed to be over. But it wasn't over. It was, as he says to her at the end: "Brutal".

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