‘The Fighter:’ ‘Rocky 2.0’

With all the homoeroticism (and lesbian subplot) in The Wrestler two years back, I was hoping The Fighter — with an always-buff Mark Wahlberg, above left, as an aspiring welterweight — might, Rocky III-esque, idealize the male form for gay audiences. No such luck. We have to settle, instead, for a gritty and highly watchable character study set in the world of boxing. I’ll adjust.

In many ways, The Fighter is the obverse of Black Swan: One is about a girl in the arts that lures you in with cliches about ballet films, then turns out the be something totally different; the other is about man in sports that avoids a lot of cliches until, about three-quarters through, turns out to be Rocky in disguise. (Both films also have the hand of Darren Aronofsky in them, who also directed The Wrestler.)

Such misdirection works in the film’s favor, because it allows the story to unfold with the immediacy of a family drama, and this family is full of drama. Mom (a fabulous Melissa Leo) coddles her seven useless harpy daughters while offering up her son Micky (Wahlberg, more heartfelt than ever), the only one with potential, in a series of bad bouts.

Even worse: The entire town of Lowell, Mass., idolizes Micky’s crack-addict brother Dicky (Christian Bale), a has-been who spends more time getting high than helping his little brother achieve what he couldn’t.

That may sound like a familiar plot, and it is familiar — you think of On the Waterfront, and are tempted to call it Rocky 2.0 — but the approach is cattywampus, almost disorienting. You think you know where it’s headed, but it surprises you.

With its cinema verite look and painfully authentic performances — especially by Leo and Bale, who’s gaunt and scary as a tweaked-out loser — conjure up everything that’s frightening about poisonous relationships of all kinds. It’s the season’s most unexpected crowd-pleaser.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Three stars
Now playing at the Angelika Film Center — Mockingbird Station

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

‘There is no day but today’

By Trinity Wheeler, director, “The Laramie Project”

If one, definitive lesson has lingered with me since working with “Rent,” it is that of the lyric, “No day but today.”

This message in mind, I knew it was time — though, well overdue — for “The Laramie Project” in East Texas. When invited to direct a show in my chiefly conservative hometown of Tyler — which experienced a hate crime nearly identical to Matthew Shepard’s, five years before his murder in Laramie, Wyo. — I could have very easily chosen “Steel Magnolias,” “Harvey,” or any other tried-and-true, community-theater staple.

But I didn’t want a crowd pleaser. I wanted to present a production that would allow the audience to consider the views of others, and reconsider their own. To invite debate, discussion, and to open a dialogue — the seeds of progress.

The response I received in coming out was nowhere near positive or pleasant. If this was the reaction of my own family, how would the community respond to a work in which the topic of homosexuality is unabashedly broached?

I went out on a limb in choosing this show, and was very aware of the chance the bough could break, and down would come baby. But the number of East Texans who voiced their support for this production after protests from members of the theater board proved to be unexpectedly staggering.

The show is no stranger to controversy, though I don’t believe any of us imagined we would face opposition long before we even began rehearsals, especially from those who once fully supported the project. But the cast, crew, and community banded together to brave the storm, and I believe we are all the more resolute because of it, having formed a brand of bond unique to such an experience, which may not have happened otherwise.

And that is exactly what this show is about. A community coming together in the wake of adverse events. I have hope for this production, and for Tyler and East Texas. I hold to hope for tomorrow, but, for now, there is no day but today.

—  Dallasvoice