Seven Days In Utopia
Cast: Robert Duvall, Lucas Black, Melissa Leo, Deborah Ann Woll, Madison Burge
Director: Matt Russell
Fordham University, ‘12
“A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone's feelings unintentionally.” – Oscar Wilde
Seven Days In Utopia
Review By: Daniel Reynolds
In its basic premise, Seven Days In Utopia is a lot like Happy Gilmore. Both feature troubled male protagonists who, via wise mentorship and a few unexpected, but enlightening, experiences, are able to conquer their demons through the sport of golf. But unlike Happy Gilmore, Seven Days In Utopia is rated G, and begins with a quote from the Book of Isaiah, which should give the potential viewer some idea of what’s in store. While the film’s heavy-handed Christian message may bother some, and its lack of sex and violence may bore others, Seven Days In Utopia has its quiet, if clichéd, charms. And while it’s certainly no ace in the hole, the film is saved from the sand trap by commendable performances from Oscar-winner Robert Duvall and Lucas Black.
A stranger comes to the town of Utopia, Texas when Luke Chisolm (Lucas Black), a rising hotshot in the golfing world, swerves to avoid missing a cow on a country road, and crashes his car into a fence. Luke’s been a little distracted lately, you see. Not only did he lose his first pro circuit game, but he lost it in front of the press, breaking his club in half and chucking it into a nearby lake. The wrecked vehicle, driven off the road, becomes an apt and obvious symbol of his crushed dreams and lost direction in life.
Enter Johnny (Robert Duvall), a grizzled local, who discovers the angry, injured Luke and drives him to the diner to find assistance. (It’s a small town, remember, so in lieu of hospitals and garages, diners will have to do.) They do have televisions though, and Luke’s meltdown is all over the news. The concerned Johnny, a retired professional golf player himself, senses his help is needed and offers Luke a deal: “Spend seven days in Utopia with me, and you’ll find your game.” Conveniently, seven days is also the time required to fix the car, so having no real choice in the matter, Luke agrees.
Utopia, as its name would suggest, is a small, idyllic town nestled in fields of golden wheat, where beautiful waitresses aspire to be horse whisperers, church-going, porch-sitting, and hoedowns are daily routine, and men settle their differences over a lively game of rodeo poker (don’t ask). In another movie, three drag queens might show up and shake things up a little (see To Wong Foo). But alas, in this movie, the only one shaken up is Luke, who is unaccustomed to an environment focused on faith, friends, and family.
In essence, Seven Days In Utopia is a story about father-son relationships. There are frequent, sometimes confusing flashbacks to scenes in Luke’s past, which portray an insensitive and overbearing father (Joseph Lyle Taylor) intent on molding his son into a star athlete, no
The film mostly dwells on Luke’s apprenticeship with Johnny, but woven into the Utopia tapestry is a cast of flat, but functional characters. Deborah Ann Wolf, of True Blood fame, catches Luke’s eye as the pretty Sarah, who as a God-fearing, wholesome waitress is a bizarro-world version of the actress’ popular vampiric role. And Melissa Leo has a quick turn as Lily, the no-nonsense local innkeeper. But potential romance aside, the film’s mainly about God and golf, and the final climactic tournament will stress in no uncertain terms, which of the two should be more important.
The Blu ray DVD’s special features, “Who’s Your Johnny” and “Beyond the Game,” are little more than extended trailers with added sound bites from production members and the book’s author, David Cook. A third feature, “PGA Certified,” reveals that the Professional Golfer’s Association had involvement with the film’s production, and golf fans will be pleased to learn that real golfers were cast as extras in the tournaments. But other than that piece of information, the features offered little added value.
Visually, there are moments of striking cinematography much enhanced by the Blu-ray experience. Every scene is cast in a golden, mid-summer light, and there are stunning panoramas of horse rides through Texan fields and countryside. Nights are equally enchanting, showcasing the sparkle of fireworks after a dance and the glow of fireflies illuminating a backyard. The sound is nothing stellar, but match the film’s quiet tone: the babble of a brook, a horse’s galloping hoofs, the whistle of a golf ball sailing toward the green. By its very definition, Utopia is a dull, but beautiful place, and the Blu-ray conversion does its job in upholding the beautiful half.
Viewers offended by strong religious messages should steer clear of Seven Days In Utopia. But for those who don’t mind a little spirituality in a sports drama, this quiet film hits all the right marks, telling a serviceable tale of golf-inspiration and self-transformation.