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“Brokeback” Breaks: Why All the Fuss?

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By Andrea Meyer
IFC News

What is left to say about Brokeback Mountain? The so-called “Gay Cowboy Movie” is a shoe-in for the most hyped movie of the year award, spurring the kind of commotion that makes studio publicity departments salivate.

Besides nabbing the cover of every rag in the country, evidence of the craze includes Oscar buzz surrounding Heath Ledger, Ang Lee, Michelle Williams and the movie itself. Cyber-discussions about “the year’s most daring love story” have apparently reached new levels of anticipatory hysteria, largely based on an epic trailer. And the conservative contingent has chimed in, with angry Wyomingans declaring there’s no such thing as a gay cowboy. But we all know a little controversy never hurts at the box office — or as producer and co-president of Focus Features James Schamus puts it, “It’s a Focus movie if someone out there hates it before we’ve even made the movie.”

With all the bantering, bickering and blogging, the burning question begging to be asked is: What’s the big deal?

As we all know by now, Ang Lee’s epic love story charts the 20-year romance between Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), a couple of Marlboro men hired to wrangle sheep on a desolate hillside in Wyoming. What starts as friendship built swigging whiskey around a campfire shifts when they share a tent on a cold night and find themselves having confusing sex that eventually leads to what neither man would ever refer to as falling in love. The feelings that overwhelm Ennis and Jack materialize in spite of themselves, in spite of their intention to live normal, wife-and-kid kind of lives, in spite of a society that cannot accept their bond.

Their tale is tragic and not that unusual. It is romantic, heartbreaking, complex and sweet. The movie’s not daring. It’s a big, beautiful weepie about lovers — soulmates even — whose passion never fades even as their union is thwarted by forces beyond their control. It’s Romeo and Juliet, for God’s sake, only both star-crossed sweethearts are guys. At a recent junket, Ledger, who calls his character, “a homophobic man in love with another man,” said, “I think daring and brave is what the firefighters are when they’re putting out a fire. We’re just telling a love story.”

Ledger doesn’t believe there’s anything especially risky about “Brokeback Mountain.” “I never thought I had anything at stake,” he says. “I feel pretty safe. I was always okay with the subject. For me it was an opportunity to work with such brilliant material, a brilliant director and such an interesting, complex character, and it was a story that hadn’t been told. It was a story that has never made it to screen.”

Maybe that’s what has sparked all the hubbub. “Brokeback Mountain” is that rarity in Hollywood: a story that has never been told. When co-screenwriter Larry McMurtry, who is also the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Lonesome Dove,” first read Annie Proulx’s gut-wrenching short story on which the film is based, he said he “felt a little frisson of ‘why didn’t I write this’? It’s been there my whole life and Annie wrote it and I didn’t.” Fresh stories are like buried treasure in Hollywood, something we might discover in the wild mind of Charlie Kaufman, but rarely in a genre as firmly entrenched in its conventions as the Western. It’s the kind of precious jewel that deserves Oscar talk, Internet hysterics, and a dose of conservative backlash just to whip up the box office numbers.

“I refuse to see portraying homosexual love as daring,” said Anne Hathaway, the princess of tween flicks who plays Gyllenhaal’s wife, who has her own take on the hype. “It’s daring because it’s very rare to find a Hollywood love story that’s honest. That is daring.”

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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