Several years ago, a colleague at the now-defunct Houston Post wrote a story about movies that some people – celebrities, mostly – like to watch over and over and over again on videocassette. (Hey, I told you this was several years ago.) When he ran out of really well-known folks to interview, he collared me in the newsroom and asked: “What movie do you watch repeatedly?” And so I told him: “There’s something about Tender Mercies that deeply and profoundly affects me on so many levels that, yes, I’m addicted to watching it. Whenever I get depressed, I want to pop the tape into the VCR, and hear Robert Duvall say: ‘I don’t trust happiness. Never did, never will.’ God, I know exactly how he feels.”
Flash-forward a few weeks: I am at Houston’s Stages Theatre for the opening night performance of Talking Pictures, a play by the great Horton Foote, the Oscar-winning scriptwriter of Tender Mercies (and To Kill a Mockingbird). There’s a post-performance party, and I’m off in a corner, munching on fried chicken I obtained from the bountiful buffet, when I spot Foote – who I’ve met maybe once or twice before that evening – across a crowded room. I nod, give him a thumb’s up – the play actually was quite good, and deserves to be revived – and go back to eating. Much to my surprise, however, Foote cuts short a conversation he’s having with someone, walks across the crowded room, makes his way over to me and, without a hint of irony, says: “Oh, Joe, I’m so sorry you get depressed…”
Bless you, Mr. Foote. And thank you again for writing Tender Mercies, which can be seen Sunday evening on Turner Classic Movies. Masterfully directed by Bruce Beresford, this is a spare, subtle film that speaks in a quiet yet compelling voice about faith and despair, regret and redemption, lower depths and second chances, while considering the restorative potential of human and divine love. Duvall earned his own Academy Award for his heart-wrenching performance as Mac Sledge, a down-and-out country singer who’s redeemed by the love a good woman (Tess Harper), then pushed back to the brink by a devastating tragedy. If you can remain dry-eyed during his final scene here, you’re made of sterner stuff than me.