Stand and Sing: Finding The Villain in "Logan Lucky"

Logan Lucky was an absolute delight. Set in rural West Virginia, it follows the story of the Logan siblings: Jimmy, a college football star prevented from going pro by injuries, Clyde, a one-armed veteran of the Iraq wars, and Mellie, a hairdresser with a passion for cars as they attempt to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway in neighboring North Carolina. It’s a fun, exciting heist movie that packs a genuine emotional punch and conveys its working-class heroes with dignity, anchored by excellent performances from its stars and a compelling story. However, I think the movie is also a masterpiece of subtle characterization, whether it comes to Jimmy’s American flag underwear or Clyde’s slow grace while mixing drinks or the moment I want to explore here.

One of the more interesting aspects of Logan Lucky is that it seems to have no definitive villain. Unlike most heist films, in which the person being robbed is set up as somehow deserving it, there’s absolutely no mention of why we should want to see the speedway robbed. Indeed, the heist is pulled off entirely for personal gain, to get Jimmy enough money so he can keep seeing his daughter Sadie after he’s laid off. A few pseudo-villainous or otherwise disreputable characters do appear: Jimmy’s dismissive and demeaning ex-wife Bobbie Jo, who makes plans to move to another state with Said without telling him; her new husband Moody, who seems to be both incompetent and creepily interested in Mellie; and the obnoxiously entitled social-media personality and newly-minted race car owner Max Chillblain. None of them, however, seem to be genuinely villainous or even major protagonists, though we certainly don’t like them.

However, a subtle moment toward the end of the movie seems to reveal the character we’re meant to focus on as the closest thing the movie has to a villain. The scene takes place as Sadie prepares to compete in the talent portion of her child beauty pageant, for which she was supposed to sing Rihanna’s “Umbrella." Seeing her dad in the audience, however, she decides to instead sing his favorite song: John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” State pride soon swells, and in a genuinely moving moment, everyone in the audience starts singing, even the hitherto-creepy Moody. Everyone in the audience, that is, except one: Bobbie Jo. It’s a striking moment, and as the camera frames her face alone, stubbornly quiet, it’s hard to not pick up the message: this is the bad guy.

This, to me, is a perfect example of a revelatory moment, one that colors the rest of the film while also shedding new light on what’s previously occurred. Seeing Bobbie Jo refusing to sing along with the rest of the crowd made me realize that this movie is largely about the problems of dismissing the people it portrays, telling viewers over and over “we are so much more than you imagine.” Of course the movie’s most dismissive character, the one who decides to move Sadie across state lines without even talking to her father about it and uses the phrase “I have full custody” as an excuse to ignore what is clearly a stable, supportive, and doting father, is its villain, and a tiny scene like that solidifies it for us. This in turn makes the film’s happy ending even more meaningful. In the final scene, Jimmy picks up Saide for his visitation day and asks when he should bring her back. Her reply? “Whenever.” This single line resonates powerfully, because it tells us that Bobbie Jo has learned to give both her daughter and her ex-husband the time they need with each other. It feels like something has truly changed, that she’s finally stopped dismissing her ex-husband and his family, and in doing so ceased to be a villain. We come to this realization by the end of the movie, and in doing so notice something we never realized we noticed.

With excitement and optimism,

Alex