Friday, August 26, 2011

Day 4: Million Dollar Baby

Million Dollar Baby

There comes a point in every person's life when they must finally, finally, serendipitously find themselves in front of a tv wondering why the hell Hilary Swank won an Oscar for "Million Dollar Baby."

For me, that night was tonight.


Not earth-shattering. Not "Fight Club." Not "Stranger than Fiction." But pretty darn good, especially when you think that it's a mega-million dollar film front run by a GIANT studio. But, seriously? This was not a million-dollar role. Swank has MUCH better roles (obvs "Boys Don't Cry' and even freaking "P.S. I Love You!") but hey, Hollywood's got a lotta politics, right?

I mean, come on. We see everyone, i.e. Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman, quietly fall in love with a girl who steals their hearts with her spunkiness. She's got guts, she's got heart. Clint Eastwood especially loves her-- he's currently estranged from his real daughter. The fit is natural. Morgan Freeman is a man on the sidelines, a simple man with uncanny Freeman advice, dispensed appropriately when is necessary. We love them all. Even Clint Eastwood, who, if you haven't grown up with him, can sometimes be hard to digest, is pretty great. Good people. Good hearts. Good aspirations.

And things go swimmingly! Hilary Swank's Maggie is an ace fighter. She routinely KO's in the beginning of her first round, moving up and up and up in ranks. Eastwood comes around, having a character change of heart, taking a risk, and puts her in a title match with the current champion, a dirty ex-prostitute of a fighter who knowingly fights dirty in the ring.

She basically kills Maggie. She fights her dirty. Maggie gets all busted up, comes right back, pummels the crap out of dirty-bitch-german-prostitute, and then DBGP comes right back in a time-out and smacks Hillary Swank's Maggie across her head when she's not looking. And as so often happens serendipitously in movies, something BAD happens.

Maggie falls over, knocks her temple on a stool, and is g-o-n-e.

The rest of the movie is spent watching her decay in a hospital bed, a vegetable, now that her spinal column is detached, breathing through her throat because of a tracheotomy, getting bed sores and ulcers and ultimately amputated, and finally, begging, BEGGING Clint Eastwood to kill her so that she can keep her hard-earned respect and dignity.

He does. And before he does, Eastwood, who has been quietly studying Gaelic this entire film, finally fills Maggie in on a little secret: her nickname in the ring, the one all her fans chant and scream, the name Eastwood gave her while pretending not to know what it meant, means "my darling, my blood."

She dies happily, peacefully, lovingly.

And that's what's very, very good about the movie.

The voice over narrating the whole thing is of course Morgan Freeman, and by the end of the film, we realize he's writing a letter to Clint Eastwood's real daughter, the one that never responds to the years and years and years of letters Eastwood has sent her. "I thought someone should tell you about the man your father really was," Freeman says, and we are happy with that conclusion. It's important, it's meaningful, it's relevant, and it really, really sums up nicely the forty minutes of trauma we just watched everyone endure.

So that's all good. :)

But not Oscar-worthy performance good, for Swank. I mean, seriously, take a look at who she was up against that year: "VERA DRAKE," "ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND," AND "MARIA FULL OF GRACE."

And Swank gets it for gaining 19 lbs of muscle and having gut-wrenching prosthetics and make-up applied every day? she wins with this? come on.

Swank should be better than that. She is MUCH better than the roles I've recently seen her in; this one, and "Conviction." She can, and SHOULD, do much, much more with her ability.

The story is pretty cute. Day players make a few good appearances, Danger, a mentally handicapped kid gives us all a huge dose of heart right in the midst of any situation, giving the Hit Pit a charming, quirky attitude. A couple of the fighters play pretty good assholes, and the big German Ex-Prostitute Bitch is TERRIFYING. OH, and Swank's family; as she says quite accurately, "lazy-ass hillbillies." They're good. They're awful, and they make me really, really, really hate them and their selfish habits.

So. Million Dollar Baby.

A mis-directed Oscar, but hey, I guess it was alright.


  1. Had an interesting converstation with Justin today about this movie, where he mentioned that he thought a more skilled actress could have done more with Hillary Swank's role than she did.

    I have to agree. There's a certain element of depth missing in her performance, regardless of how true and accurate she is, how believable she is. We want something heavier, something deeper from Maggie Fitzgerald, something rattling around in her guts, and we don't have it here.

  2. This is a terrific review of this film! And it helps that you saw the movie well past the wave of praise and distiguishment it received during it's theater run and subsequent oscar season.

    It's interesting to read reviews of movies that, at the time, people considered such a fine film achievement, but now that the bandwagon bloggers have vanished, can really be seen for it's true colors.

    This movie isn't bad, it's actually pretty good. I agree with pretty much everything you said.

    My biggest problem with movies like this though, stem from the storytelling and overarching idea that the ends justifies the means. I know most people don't watch movies and try to implicate the underlying world view that is the basis for the entire story. But movies like this force you to. Here's what I mean - the entire story exists solely as a means to get Clint Eastwood's characters daughter to possibly reunite with her aging father. There are a bazillion ways to tell a story like that. They could have had Clint's character save an old lady from a burning building, or rescue a cat from a tree (admittedly to much less effect) and Morgan Freeman could have written a very similar letter at the end.

    So that's where the 'ends justifies the means' theory comes in. This story chose to revolve around a terrible tragedy, and through that tragedy, we feel certain emotions. Then at the end, we really want the daughter and father to reunite. Clearly, with their choice of using such a dramatic tragedy as they did as the means to justify the ending of 'daughter and father should reunite', they proved that they were willing to go as far as possible to get their point across.

    I think it's contrived and unfair. Maggie exists in the movie for no other reason than a cheap vehicle to prove that Clint is a good guy.

    A more subtle example of this type of storytelling can be seen in almost every Disney movie ever made. Why do the parents of almost every Disney character die in the movie? So the youngin' is forced to be independent and discover new things in the world, right? And while it may seem mean that Disney tends to kill off parents, they at least have the decency to do it in the beginning of the movie.

    Also, if you saw Marley and Me, you know exactly what I mean. Without proper foreshadowing, it just feels wrong and unfair to build up a character in a movie, place them in a leading role, only to find out at the end that their entire role in the story was simply to help someone else? Now, the proper foreshadowing is important, because there is a proper way to kill off main characters. Watch Arlington Road. While the end makes you uneasy, there are plenty of signs along the way that point to that outcome.

    Anyway, I should probably get back to work :)...


    THAT is exactly what's wrong about this movie! Okay, so in "The Help," Emma Stone's character exists SOLELY to bridge the gap between black and white in the early sixties. That's all. Luckily, it's not that big of a deal because she doesn't die at the end; she goes to New York with a literay job (which is super unfair seeing that the black women in the movie get fired and gain "perspective" that we all know they already have.)

    ANyway--you are SPOT ON about Swank's character existing SOLELY TO PROVE THAT CLINT EASTWOOD IS A GOOD GUY. WOW. I hadn't even pieced that together before.

    I think focusing the film on such a tragedy is an okay thing; it mirrors what the point really is, the reuniting of Daughter and Father. Through Clint's trials and successes with Maggie, we can piece together his loss and guilt over his estranged relationship with his own daughter, regardless of how very little we see of that relationship.

    Maybe this is where Swank might have been an ill-advised choice for the role. She clearly fulfills the role written--she is purely, and only a vehicle to be killed off and make us all freak out about it. Her choices, as an actress, fulfill that. But what if the role HAD gone to someone else? Would we have seen more choice, more decision making in a Maggie, more reason to believe in her side of the story, instead of only fleshing out an assumed fatherly feeling of Clint Eastwood's? THAT would have made the story stick--THAT would have been worth an Oscar.

    I have no idea what Marley and Me is even about. I couldn't stomach Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, and a puppy dog all together at once--it's like an updated version of Marmaduke. Is it good? If it is you can kill me now.

    I kept trying to figure out what the deal was with Maggie. I knew that in her big match SOMETHING was gonna happen--she'd had no struggle up to any point to prove otherwise. Movies move in those waves of triumph and setback, and Maggie triumphed triumphed triumphed from the beginning. And then. BAM. She's gone and we're left heaving and crying because honestly, who wouldn't when they see something like that happen?

    I still can't believe how perceptive you are about that. OH MY LORD.