Film Review – Seven Days in Utopia
I walked into Seven Days in Utopia (2011) knowing nothing about the movie. I hadn’t seen the trailer or read any of the press releases about it. Now, a lot of times, going into a movie without any expectations can lead to some pleasant results—when you aren’t expecting anything, the natural place to go would be toward the positive. That can’t be said this time. Directed by Matt Russell, this is a bland, uninspiring, uninteresting story that hammers its message so blatantly and so often that it’s surprising you can come out of it without a headache. I’m usually one for sports films, even if that sport is golf, but this film tries too hard to associate the sport with a more spiritual level, so much so that it crosses the line and becomes over the top.
Let’s start off with the plot. Luke Chisholm (Lucas Black) is a young, talented amateur golfer looking to make a name for himself in the pro circuit. After a disastrous debut performance on the green, which includes him crumbling under the pressure of his overbearing father (Joseph Lyle Taylor), Luke travels off to seek some peace of mind. This getaway leads him to the small town of Utopia, Texas, where there are fewer than 400 people in its population, everyone knows everyone else by first name, and attending church is considered a recreational activity. Utopia is a just a little bit on the obvious side when describing the town; everyone seems to get along, late night parties are over decorated with oh-so-beautiful candlelit lanterns, and every family seems to have a fresh pie ready to give to any hungry person. The only other thing this place needs is white picket fences and you have a good old-fashioned slice of Americana.
The first person Luke meets in Utopia will come to be the person who helps him the most, the old rancher Johnny Crawford (Robert Duvall). Johnny is a quirky, funny man, quick with the jokes and exuding such warmth that it would almost be considered too much. Duvall plays him very well, stealing just about every scene that he is in with his wit and mischievous sensibility. Little does Luke know, but Johnny turns out to be arguably the best golfer to ever live (or at least that’s what the movie would like us to believe). Championship trophies adorn his room, and pictures depict him proudly with some of the great golfers of years past. With Luke having his daddy issues and problems with his swing, and Johnny seemingly drawn to this kid after seeing how badly he failed at his first pro tournament, Johnny decides to give Luke some much needed advice on his technique and outlook on the game. Of course, Johnny is an unconventional teacher, and we wonder just how Luke is supposed to improve his talent when Johnny has him painting pictures, going fishing, and flying a plane as part of his daily lessons.
There is certainly heart and good intentions running rampant throughout this film, but unfortunately that does little to lift it up above a mediocre script. Everything about the movie felt flat—there really wasn’t much substance in its story or its characters, and it never built any kind of momentum toward its climax. Luke is a professional golfer with unlimited talent. Sure, he had a misstep his first time out, but that’s what happens to all rookies! You learn to grow and deal with your mistakes eventually. His relationship with his father is one we’ve seen more than a dozen times; all fathers want their children to be the best in what they do, so I found myself not very sympathetic of a character whose problem is simply something that a lot of normal families go through. I haven’t seen much of Lucas Black, but his acting is less than impressive here. At the time we reach the emotional climax of the movie, Black’s acting provided more laughter than dramatic feeling from the audience. The people of Utopia are all fine and dandy, but they aren’t much more than just fine and dandy. Everyone seems to be happy on purpose, there is really no depth amongst any of the characters. Melissa Leo is arguably the most talented person in the cast, but her character is completely wasted, and the romance that springs between Luke and the local girl Sarah (Deborah Ann Woll) felt forced and ultimately goes nowhere.
One of the worst aspects about the movie was how golf was described more as a meditative, religious exercise, as if to say that to become a great golfer, one must be able to allow spiritual guidance into their life. Someone should have told Luke that it’s “just a game,” and not to worry about his first performance so much. I’m all for allowing people to have their own religious beliefs, but this movie pounds that idea so much that it becomes overbearing. Not only that, but the theme is supported even more by a terrible and unnecessary voiceover by Duvall that does everything that bad narration does. It gives us information we already know, it describes what we are already seeing on screen, and it provides insights that we were aware of two scenes earlier. It’s an unneeded tool, combined with an idea that comes off too visibly to the point of being preachy, as if this were something you would see on a made-for-TV after school special.
But there is one last thing that takes the cake, that drops this down from a bad movie to a terrible movie. One of the requirements of making a good film is the ending. If a movie has a great ending, a lot of times it’ll make up for whatever shortcomings it may have. Seven Days in Utopia has one of the worst endings I’ve seen in recent memory. I won’t go too far into it, but I will say that throughout the entire film, we are expecting a certain moment to come about, and a certain result to come out of it. Well, Russell and his writers decided to throw that out of the window, and end the film just short of where it should have ended. In its place, we get a postscript that is completely out of left field, that has no business being there, and is more of a gimmick than anything else. I was appalled to see something like this out of a film that tried to take itself seriously, but did something that is the complete opposite. You may now be wondering what exactly this ending is, but if you do end up watching the film up to those last few moments, I think you would agree with me.
Final Grade: D+