A few days ago, I set the DVR to record the 1976 Best Picture winner Rocky off of TCM. Last night, I finally got a chance to sit down and actually watch it.
Why Was I Watching It?
I’ll be honest here and admit that I wasn’t watching it because I’ve ever had any great desire to see this movie or, for that matter, any other Sylvester Stallone film. (Though, for the record, I thought the Expendables was vaguely entertaining.) However, this being Oscar season, my mind right now is pretty much dominated by 1) a mental list of all 493 best picture nominees and 2) an obsessive need to see every single one of those films.
And since we’re focusing on reviewing best picture nominees this month, I figured why not take this opportunity to watch Rocky. After all, I thought, this is the film that managed to win best picture over Network, Taxi Driver, and All The President’s Men. How bad can it be?
What’s It About?
So, there’s this guy named Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and he’s got to be the nicest Mafia goon alive. He spends his time collecting debts for the local loan shark (played by the Maniac himself, Joe Spinell) but he refuses to break anyone’s thumbs while doing so and even offers up helpful advice like, “Yo, you got to start thinking.” Spinell’s all like, “Rocky, why aren’t you breaking anyone’s thumbs?” and Rocky says he doesn’t want to and Spinell’s all like, “That’s okay,” because oddly enough, Joe Spinell is the only guy in the Mafia who is nicer than Rocky.
Anyway. Rocky is also a boxer who fights “bums” (as his trainer Burgess Meredith is fond of bellowing) and who is sweetly courting Adrian (Talia Shire), a shy girl who works in the local pet store. Adrian’s brother (played by Burt Young) is named Paul but since everyone in the film is Italian, he’s called “Paulie” instead. (I can say this because I’m a fourth Italian and if your name is Paul, I’m going to call you “Paulie” whether you like it or not.)
Anyway, there’s another boxer (played by Carl Weathers) and he’s named Apollo Creed. Apollo is the champ because when you’ve got a name like Apollo Creed, you better be the best or else you’re just going to look silly. For publicity reasons, Apollo gives the unknown Rocky the chance to fight him for the championship. Apollo is expecting an easy fight but he hasn’t taken into consideration that Rocky is not only willing to run every morning but he’s willing to run up steps as well!
(WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW.)
The love story between Rocky and Adrian was kinda sweet, largely because Talia Shire and Sylvester Stallone both had a very genuine chemistry and Shire gave such a good performance that Stallone (who spends most of the film coming across like a parody of a method actor) gives a better performance when he’s sharing the screen with her. I spent a lot of this movie rolling my eyes at just how shamelessly manipulative it was but I have to admit that the final scene — with Adrian going “I love you, Rocky,” and a bloody and kinda gross-looking Rocky replying with a heartfelt, “I love you!” — brought tears to my multi-colored eyes.
What Didn’t Work?
Rocky has got to be one of the most shamelessly manipulative films ever made. Director John G. Avildsen (who won best director while Martin Scorsese wasn’t even nominated for Taxi Driver) pushed every obvious button and used every technique at his disposal to force the audience to root for Rocky. Hence, we get the famous training montage set to soaring music and the subtle appeals to racism that are inherent in the portrayals of Apollo Creed and his entourage. Admittedly, one reason that a lot of these scenes fell flat is because I’ve seen them duplicated in thousands of other sports films. I know its possible that the reason I’ve seen them duplicated is because of Rocky’s success but still, it doesn’t make those scenes feel any less obvious and vaguely silly.
Do you know how sometimes you just watch a movie and you go, “There is absolutely nothing in this movie for me to relate to and I really should be watching the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills right now?” Well, my reaction to Rocky wasn’t that extreme but it was pretty close. I watched this film — which I’ve seen described as one of the most emotional films ever made — feeling oddly detached from everything I was seeing on-screen, my attention only being held by a clinical fascination concerning just how shamelessly manipulative this film was. Try as I might, I simply could not get emotionally invested in what I was watching. Some of that, undoubtedly, has to do with the fact that I’m not into sports films in general. However, I think most of it comes down to the fact that I have a vagina and, quite frankly, the appeal of Sylvester Stallone is lost on me.
Speaking of the appeal of Sylvester Stallone…
“Oh my God! Just like me!” Moments:
None. It’s rare that I say that because I can usually find a way to relate any movie I see to my life but Rocky was just too alien to me.
Best is a subjective term.