E: Ah, I love a local story. And you know I love me some true stories, too. This one is so realistic, it’s almost frightening.
In one corner, we have the Ward/Ecklund clan, starting with boxing manager Mom Alice, mellow peacemaking husband George, seven loud, ball-busting, big-haired sisters and former boxer legend, crack addicted jail bird brother Dicky Ecklund. On the other, we have sexy bartender Charlene Fleming and boxing coach Mickey O’Keefe and a few stand up promoters. The prize? Control of boxer Micky Ward, who might just be good enough to be champion of the world, if he could ever figure out who to listen to and who to trust.
And really, that’s what it is, but to see it work out is a much more complex and curious thing. Alice is Micky’s manager, but she seems to care a little bit more about the money – a just maybe a lot more about Dicky – than she does about her younger son. She puts Mick into fights he can’t possibly win, just for the paycheck, and the more fights he loses, the less chance he has at his career going anywhere.
And Micky and his brother Dicky are something of local legends. As the film begins a camera crew – purported to be chronicling Dicky’s return to boxing – follows their joyous stroll down a grimey street, waggering, slapping hands, exchanging greetings and kisses with the type of people who don’t often make it onto a movie screen. They’re pumped up with pride for a fight Micky has planned. His luck is going to turn, the eternal optimists tell him. We’re going to win. High on life, Micky chats up the sexy new bartender, Charlene Fleming.
From the start the trip to Atlantic City seems doomed. Dicky loses all sense of time to his drugs; he hilarious leaps out the second floor back window into a trash heap hoping to evade his furious mother, wondering why he’s making everyone late for the airport. (As the movie goes on, it becomes clear that the trash heap is a regular exit.) And then the boxer Micky’s been training to beat drops out of the fight, which leaves everyone the choice of going home unpaid, or putting Micky up against a bruiser who belongs in a different weight class.
And Micky get slaughtered.
And then he just can’t face anyone, not when it matters so much in Lowell that somebody, anybody does well.
Charlene actually shows up at Micky’s apartment, demanding to know why he hasn’t called her. So when Mick finally takes Charlene out, he brings her a good half an hour away to another world, one of Boston’s most affluent suburbs. Is he trying to impress her, going to see a foreign movie? Charlene turns that puzzling moment to serious truth telling. Micky admits that he’s too embarrassed to show his bruised and bloodied face around town.
And from there, Charlene begins to step between Mick and the – let’s call them over-reachings – of his family. Dicky ends up back in jail, and Micky starts training with Mickey O’Keefe instead. From here, the movie enters into fascinating territory. Is his family good or bad for Micky? Is Charlene right, to tell him to train with someone who’ll actually show up? Can we really step away from our blood ties? Can Dicky get it together enough to have something to offer, or is it all already gone? It’s genuinely difficult to tell what’s going to be the saving of Micky Ward, the nice tough guy trying to work hard and make good; is it standing on his own, or sticking with his family? It’s genuinely difficult to tell if he’s going to be saved at all.
The film makers have made a serious effort to give the film the feeling of Lowell in the 90s, the swagger and sting of working class Massachusetts. It’s pretty amazing, really. The hair, the clothes, the touchy attitude, the good humor and the lack of hope – you feel it. Policeman/trainer Mickey O’Keefe is actually played by the real Mickey O’Keefe. They’ve got everything, really, but the music. (This puzzles me. Why didn’t they use any period music? Couldn’t get the rights to Good Vibrations?) I love that Amy Adams, sexy as she looks, didn’t come to the shoot with washboard abs, but left a tiny curve of tummy beneath her belly shirt. I love that she’s considered a college girl, because she spent a few semesters in Rhodes Island before partying too hard and dropping out.
I adored the movie theater scene. In case you were wondering, that was Lexington of the American Revolution, Lexington and Concord, Midnight Ride of Paul Revere fame. And they go to the Lexington Flick, a real, tiny art house theater where I’ve sought out obscure Oscar movies in the past. It’s my best friend and her husband’s favorite date spot. I love the way the preppy fellow-film goer chortled on about the film to them, not having any idea how peculiar he sounded. True story; I saw Belle Epoque at the Nickelodeon theater at B.U. with a close female friend; midway through, we realized that literally the entire audience except us consisted of gay couples. This scene certainly brought back that odd memory, that sense of amused awkwardness.
The Fighter has wracked up quite a pastel of nominations. Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo received their expected supporting acting nods; Bale is the heavy favorite to win, and as the Golden Globe winner, Melissa Leo is a frontrunner to repeat at the Oscars as well. I’m less sanguine about her chances, even though I think she’s a complete marvel. Adams plays agaisnt type; she may be a college girl, but she’s not above some punching and hairpulling, and it’s the delight of the difference that brings her acclaim. Leo and Bale, on the other hand, melt into their roles too deeply to create the same pleasure. They’re simply real people. Alice is bold and brassy, confident and strong; she cares about her sons, but does she take equal, or good, care of them? And Bale is a twitchy, slippery marvel, all loose limbs and fast talk and braggadocio. At the end of the film, there’s a clip of the real Micky and Dicky, and you see just how good the acting in this film is.
The movie also received a nomination for Best Picture. It’s an underdog for the win and no mistake, but it is actually in the fight; the main contention is considered to be between The Social Network and The King’s Speech, but it’s possible that The Fighter or True Grit could sneak in between. This high caliber of explosive performances certainly put it in contention for a surprise win in the Screen Actor’s Guild’s Ensemble award. David O. Russell received a nomination with the Hollywood Foreign Press, the Director’s Guild and the Academy, showing the support for the movie is more wide spread; it was widely assumed that Inception‘s Christopher Nolan would be honored by the Academy instead, however, so this one nomination comes as a bit of a surprise. Clearly, the movie has a fair amount of momentum behind it. It isn’t outside the realm of possibility that it could win the Original Screenplay category. And its nominated for Editing; it’s a fact little known outside of Oscar circles, but the film that wins Editing usually wins Best Picture, too, so it’s a weirdly significant place to pick up a nod. (True Grit, the other potential spoiler, did not pick up a nod there.)
Mark Wahlburg contended for the open slot on the Best Actor line up, but his character is so modest, so self-effacing and quiet, that his work was less likely to be noticed, particularly in contrast to his scenery chewing costars. But of course, that’s the story of Micky Ward’s life, isn’t it?