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Robert Altman Week

Monday
Dec272010

« In Which We Listened To A Lot Of Gucci Mane While We Wrote This »

Blue Collar Irish Catholic Population

by MOLLY LAMBERT

The Fighter

dir. David O. Russell

115 min.

"Wally Beery's a wrestler. Give me his hopes, his dreams. Naturally he gets mixed up with a bad element and a romantic interest or else an orphan." - Barton Fink

A film micro-genre has sprung up suddenly in the past few years, dedicated to portraying the lives of working class white people in Massachusetts. The hat trick of Mystic River (Clint Eastwood), The Departed (Martin Scorsese), and Gone Baby Gone (Ben Affleck) was followed by Affleck's sophomore effort The Town and now David O. Russell's The Fighter. Everything about the genre caters to a a strangely conservative nostalgia for "simple times" and "common people." When Hollywood tries to depict regular working class folks and their slummy worlds it's often kind of a drag ball.   

People hate the thing they are best at. Or rather, they love it, but they fantasize about being good at its complete opposite. Is it fair to compare The Fighter to Raging Bull or Mean Streets? No, but it constantly invites the comparison. I didn't think about Suspiria once while I was actually watching Black Swan, because I didn't have time to think about it, because I was too entertained. This is the real problem with The Fighter; it lacks spontaneity. It has no real swagger or sexiness. Black Swan is its black swan. 

The sequence where Mark Wahlberg's Micky takes his new love interest Charlene on a first date to see Belle Epoque and then falls asleep during the movie was the best part. The moment when they are waiting to buy tickets and overhear a bunch of bullshit said by an insufferable Cambridge film geek who is basically the guy in line with Woody that knows nothing of Marshall McLuhan's work works perfectly because a) it's funny b) it's entirely accurate c) it's very David O. Russell. The biggest problem with The Fighter is that the rest of it is not quite David O. Russellish enough.

That David O. Russell turns out not to be the most gifted visual director is not very surprising if you've seen his other films, which are great, but not visually memorable. Even Three Kings, his most visual and visceral movie, is remembered largely for its great dialogue scenes (and one cool CGI effect which, granted, was really cool).

This is not strictly a knock, I am also a dialogue person. It's a self-hating knock. Why do you think I go so hard on Aaron Sorkin and David Mamet? I'm a fucking playwright. Why do you think Sorkin and David Fincher went so hard on Mark Zuckerberg? It's because they are a couple of textbook Zuckerberg control freaks. Who else is a textbook Zuckerberg? Kanye. Anyone trying to make a living off their passion.

The direction feels reined in by trying to mimic social documentary photography. The attempts at bravura training montages fall flat and bring nothing new or natural to bravura training montages, which if you're going to attempt such a super hoary film cliché you fucking well better bring something new to it. Russell definitely tries to stretch himself but he doesn't go quite far enough. He refuses to let go long enough for the movie to swing. And for a movie about boxing, that is instant bed death.

This is not the worst criticism to give a director. The film is funny, but it's not quite as funny as it ought to be. There is a strange lack of kineticism in the fights and street scenes. Wahlberg is not allowed to be as dumb as he wants to be, since he's the sympathetic lead. It's not fair either for me to compare all of Mark Wahlberg's performances to his performance as Dirk Diggler, but it remains unchallenged.

It's just that I want a totally seamless integration of visuals and dialogue. If the quality of one is much better than the other, it doesn't mean it's not a great movie, it's just never going to be perfect. Name a completely perfect movie? The Last Picture Show

Christian Bale does his methody bullshit and reveals his limitations. He just seems like a Shakespearean actor playing a guy from Boston. He does not seem anything like he might be the charismatic guy from around the neighborhood that everybody knows is nuts, the role Robert DeNiro owned so hard in the seventies. There's nothing in Bale's performance remotely as scary and dangerous as the recording of his Terminator 4 on-set meltdown. Even his back of the head bald spot is overly fussed and fake. 

I love basically all accents, but Boston accents are especially great. There are occasional flashes of the weirder, funnier, better movie that The Fighter could have been. The subtext seems to be that Wahlberg and Russell were aiming for Academy Awards, but everyone knows the worst thing you can do is make art it with receiving accolades in mind. Blatantly oscar-baiting films always suffer from poshlost

Amy Adams did an amazing job portraying me. Every time she was on screen was the best time. Her scene with Micky's sisters was the other highlight of the movie, recalling Flirting With Disaster, still David O. Russell's best film. The biggest thing I came away with from The Fighter is that I will be calling people wild MTV girls for a long time now. We will never speak of the Red Hot Chili Peppers training sequence again. 

It's hard as hell to make a good genre movie. But so satisfying if you nail it. Everything is in a genre of some kind, and as soon as you step into the ring called "Western" or "rom-com" or "courtroom drama" the audience will have certain expectations. Everyone praising True Grit like the Coens are indestructible (and certainly that is me, I loved it) is forgetting Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers. You just have to accept that you are going to die onstage sometimes. That is the whole secret to everything. 

Female directors can make perfect war movies, male directors can make great ballet movies. Black Swan checked off a laundry list of feminine neurotic tropes (food issues, the never-ending beauty contest that is womanhood, mother issues) and The Fighter does the same with masculine ones (athletic competition, rivalry between brothers, mother issues). You know what is a campy ass film? The Dark Knight. Heath Ledger looked just as awesomely silly in kabuki makeup as Natalie Portman does

White male (director)s generally get more of a chance to be total fuckups and then redeem themselves later. How much money was wasted on Nailed, which will never come out and may never have finished filming? Certainly Julie Taymor is challenging the perception that women can't be equally Peter O'Toole in The Stunt Man.

Maybe The Fighter's real black swan is The Wrestler, which also benefitted from a better script. I mean this is a movie where the main characters are brothers named Micky and Dickey, and not only is there no joking about it, it's not even really made clear until halfway though, almost as if it's embarrassed to tell you. I just feel like there was a funnier looser better movie in The Fighter but it held on too tightly to trying to be "great." The whole reason The Departed is so great is because it's sort of just Scorsese fucking around and enjoying himself. Same deal with After Hours.

I have personal affection for the Massachusetts milieu. My grandmother was born in Lowell, and my mom, straight-haired teenage beatnik, would go to the beauty school there to get her hair done because it was so cheap, and come out with the only option available: giant teased hair. I was born in Hollywood. Trashiness comes easily to me. If 90s Boston area fashion comes into style I won't even be mad. I'm trying to think what genre I'd like to see David O. Russell take on next. Maybe a musical? Why the fuck not?

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording. Nawt you, nawt you, nawt you, you're cool, and nawt you. She also tumbls and twitters. Have a great New Year's!

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References (5)

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Reader Comments (6)

Tidy.

December 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKennedy

I am glad this post forced baseball hats to comment. love u baseball hats.

December 28, 2010 | Registered CommenterMolly

Ms. Lambert I agree with most of your observations, but still found the Fighter enjoyable and compelling. In my opinion the strength of the twisted family dynamic and how it's portrayed outweighs the genre-film-itus and gold trophy aspirations. I also thought Bale did his thing...and shit...

December 28, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterthaddeus clark

How good was the bra in the sex scene? It is a perfect bra. Amy Adams is a treasure and remember when she was the handbag girl on The Office who Jim dumps on the booze cruise.

December 29, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterleti

I am always distracted by bras in sex scenes, but I did enjoy her "normal girl" body, David O. Russell said he wanted her to look like a girl who drinks beer

December 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMolly

i just saw this movie and i actually loved it - even though i originally had no desire to see another boxing movie. i saw it because my mom told me it was good, and because christian bale reminded her of my uncle, a worcester irish drug addict. i love movies about massachusetts irish, even when they are cartoony, but this actually seemed to be pretty authentic, especially when amy adams tells christian bale to get off her fuckin porch.

January 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteranna d-s

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