Matthew McConaughey’s latest, The Free State of Jones, Wikipedias into theaters this weekend — and really what is there to say? It’s just … One Of Those Movies. A film that asks its audience to consider the Civil War from the perspective of [deepest possible breath] A REBEL WITH A HEART OF GOLD, Free State is lifeless, formless, and prohibitively hedged. It might “mean well,” but it doesn’t mean well. It’s a #woke nap. It’s a bad time.
And it feels like the end of something.
But just because the McConaissance has stalled out, that doesn’t mean its namesake has to. In fact, I wonder if we will eventually look back on The Free State of Jones as yet another ending-as-beginning for McConaughey. Maybe it will be a functional sequel to Ghosts of Girlfriends Past: that last, fateful bomb before he switches up his flow.
Except there’s one small problem: How do you switch up a flow that’s already been switched up? How do you get reborn when you’ve already been born, buried, and born again? How do you turn things around … from having turned things around?
Well, such is our modest proposal: A new boom period in McConaughey’s career must now be initiated. Call it the Reverse McConaissance — and think of it literally: In order to find what he’s lost, Matthew McConaughey must retrace his steps. In order to save his career, he must now perform the McConaissance, in reverse.
This is our 10-step plan to save Matthew McConaughey from the plan to save Matthew McConaughey:
Step One: Another Chris Nolan Movie, Preferably in Space
It’s time to admit something, and it won’t be easy. Actually, the truth is, it’s going to be very hard. But we’ll get through it together. Okay? Are you ready? I’m going to say it now: Interstellar is underrated. I love you, and that’s all that matters. Hold your hand in mine as we walk through the valley of opinions.
Step Two: Stop Trying to Make Three-Piece Suits Happen
This isn’t criticism, and trust me — I completely get it. Matthew McConaughey did exactly what I would do if I ever jumped a fame-level: pretend that three-piece suits have always been “my thing.” But they’re not, they’re just not. And the Reverse McConaissance is about returning to your roots. Our roots.
So let’s go there: Jeans-blazer-cross-core? Yes. Black & tan? I mean, okay, sure. Leather? It’s your life. Creepy haircut/sunglasses situation? We’ll make it work and also Ethan Embry looks great. Trench coat? I can’t say why but I’m in. Cowboy hat? It’s insulting you had to ask. Patriot chic? Fraternity chic? SCARF + TOOTHPICK chic? Fuck it, we’ll take all three.
These are the kinds of decisions that we’ll be making in the Reverse McConaissance. No more contorting under the limbo bar of aesthetic thirst. The Reverse McConaissance is about what’s real and what’s true.
Step Three: True Detective Season 3
True Detective isn’t perfect (the Yellow King was … lawnmowers? I already forget), but there was a dumb beauty to its first season — and an uncommonly metatextual energy. In Rust Cohle, McConaughey authored a sort of beer can–origami rendition of self: the burnout ’90s star investigating his own middle-period redemption. It made a lot of sense and no sense and a little sense and it worked. And — notwithstanding “Cary Fukunaga is hot” — it remains True D’s signature revelation.
In the Reverse McConaissance, McConaughey should run Rust back.
Step Four: Maximum Bait
Dallas Buyers Club wasn’t the answer, but the question — how fucking obvious are the Oscars? — is eternal. For the Reverse McConaissance, let’s greenlight the single most bullshit Oscars movie ever made. Honestly, think of the most bullshit thing possible. Got it? Okay. Yeah: way more bullshit than that. Let’s make a movie where a stuttering white child rides the horse from War Horse down to the wreckage of the Titanic, within which they perform a mafia-themed musical number and then do Important Journalism that leads to a life-changing lesson about teamwork and the American psyche and the magic of the male spirit and/or cinema. McConaughey can play the horse.
Step Five: Auteurist Supporting Roles: The Re-up
Dallas Buyers and True Detective collected most of the acclaim, but the McConaissance was established on the foundation of character parts: Bernie. Eastbound & Down. The Paperboy. The Wolf of Wall Street. Magic Mike. More than any later starring roles, these films were the movement’s core — and they represent the ethos to hang onto as we shift it back in reverse.
Let’s give Lee Daniels a call; no one has filmed McConaughey’s body with a stranger eye. Let’s give Scorsese a call; no one had ever played an acoustic cover of “Dope Nose” using the specter of McConaughey’s penis as a guitar pick before. Let’s call Richard Linklater; he’s McConaughey-minus-McConaughey-ing, already, as it is. Those are lofty examples, sure, but the basic principle isn’t hard: The McConaissance wasn’t about McConaughey. It was about breaking an obsolete idea into a million pieces, and then using each of those pieces to build an idea of its own.
To paraphrase a great poet: Let’s see if Texas wants a taste. The Reverse McConaissance is about learning to break shit again.
Step Six: Have a Frank Conversation About Hair
Out of all of the lines of demarcation between pre- and post-McConaissance, perhaps none is as stark as our hero’s … “evolving” hairline. Purely as remark and not as commentary: Pre-McConaissance was thinning; post-McConaissance has been full. Again — not a judgment. He should do what feels good, and if that’s fake hair then that’s fake hair. But he should at least do it right. McConaughey’s hair in Interstellar looks like his head selected “send all drafts.” McConaughey’s hair in The Free State of Jones looks like a face hugging a dead dog. In True Detective, the McConaughair vibe is something approaching “day-old pasta that’s been left out.” And those are probably his three best looks.
In the Reverse McConaissance, I see two options: 1) pay more for better, or 2) let it go.
Step Seven: Have a Frank Conversation About Lincoln
Step Eight: Get Back in With Magic Mike Gang
Full disclosure: I don’t want this. Magic Mike was a pretty good movie trapped in a really great pretext for aesthetes to type, “It’s about the economy.” Magic Mike XXL was perfect. But correlation doesn’t have to equal causation — and if a reunion makes sense, I won’t flex in anyone’s way.
Step Nine: Make a Lincoln Lawyer Sequel
Okay, #NotAllLincolns. I love The Lincoln Lawyer and I’m going to live my truth. Like, yeah, so what — he’s a lawyer of the people who got his license a little suspended. Don’t fucking worry about it. And yeah, he plays by — whose rules did you think??? — his own rules. Does he have time for silly bourgeois constructs like “offices”? I’ll give you one guess. Does he get results? I’ll give you no guesses — he gets results. Anyway, The Lincoln Lawyer is a solid B-plus-plus and deserves maybe 5 percent more credit for the McConaissance than it’s been given. Let’s go make some money.
Step Ten: Star in a (Good) Romantic Comedy
This is where the Lincoln meets the road — and it’s the problem, if there is one: the McConaissance was kind of a scam.
The endgame of the McConaissance has always been authenticity. Or, “authenticity”: Beards and beers and mid-level luxury sedans. Crime and/or punishment. “Based on a true story” b/w “I’ve read The Right Stuff before.” All, of course, fine. But the fundamental premise of that authenticity — that, in order to reach his full potential, Matthew McConaughey first had to reject the rom-com — has always been false.
This can’t be stressed enough. The McConaissance didn’t happen because Matthew McConaughey stopped making rom-coms. The McConaissance happened because Matthew McConaughey stopped making … really fucking shitty movies. That they were romantic comedies is beside the point. It’s certainly its own point, and a fascinating one. But here’s the truth — and it’s a truth inextricable from no less than an entire working theory of pop: The Free State of Jones is as bad as any rom-com Matthew McConaughey ever made.
There; that’s it. Once you’ve accepted this truth, you are free. Though I suspect you already have — and already know that there are great war films, and there are awful war films. That there are great rom-coms, and there are awful rom-coms. That genre isn’t a quality; it’s just a thing. And that if there is one step of prescriptive comeback left, it’s this clarification: Matthew McConaughey needs to stop making bad movies … and start making good ones.
Thus concludes the Reverse McConaissance: an idea un-redone. Maybe it will save a career. Maybe it won’t ever work. But I think it’s still worth a try. It’s like saying, “Alright, alright, alright,” backwards: Alright, alright, alright.