This week’s entry into the illustrious genre of Indie Movies About Sad Old Men, The Hero follows Lee Hayden (Sam Elliott), a 71-year-old movie star who’s keenly aware that he’s about 40 years past his prime. Pros: Lee gets to hang out all day getting stoned and watching Buster Keaton movies with his buddy/pot dealer (Nick Offerman). Cons: Aside from shilling for barbeque sauce, he’s not getting much work, and he’s got a nearly nonexistent relationship with his daughter (Krysten Ritter, at her Krysten Ritteriest). So, you know: pretty old, pretty sad.
If you’re guessing what Lee needs is a visit from a manic pixie dream girl, well, hey, look who it is: thirtysomething standup comedian Charlotte (Laura Prepon), who’s got a thing for older dudes and a ready supply of molly. Still, even a hot lady can only do so much: After a whole lot of booze, drugs, dream sequences, and cancer diagnoses, Lee’s still pretty old and pretty sad.
There’s a fair amount of meta-ness going on in The Hero—characters keep telling Lee how much they like his mustache and his old movies where he played a cowboy—and Elliott remains as gruff, likeable, and watchable as ever, his usual man-out-of-time vibe lending The Hero a fair amount of weight. That real-life baggage weighs both ways, though; no matter how seriously writer/director Brett Haley takes all this, it’s never not going to be weird to watch Donna from That ’70s Show making out with The Stranger from The Big Lebowski.
And Haley does take it pretty seriously, with a slew of shots of Elliott staring into the distance, thinking about a life that’s receding from him. This is the kind of movie that features a dramatic poetry recital, and if Elliott wasn’t in it, The Hero would feel like a slog. Luckily, Elliott is in it—which means if you wanna hang out with a sad old man, you could do worse.