'Fighter' pretty faultless

Posted: Thursday, January 20, 2011

As Ricky Gervais boldly ripped everyone at Sunday’s Golden Globes — from Bruce Willis (“You may know him from ‘Hudson Hawk’… here is Ashton Kutcher’s dad, Bruce Willis!”) to Tom Cruise (implying the famous Scientologist might be gay) — I found myself wondering what Gervais might come up with to cut down “The Fighter.” Sure, Christian Bale, who plays Micky Ward’s (Mark Wahlberg) crack-addict brother Dickie in the film, is already on record for his off-the-wall blowups on movie sets. And sure, Bale managed to be the only Golden Globe winner (for playing Dickie) Sunday who actually had his mic turned off (everyone else got the hint when the music started to play).

Even though he is a goofball and part-time world-class jerk off the screen, Bale is masterful on it. He is good enough as Dickie in “The Fighter” that I can almost forgive him for that stupid, stupid, oh-so-freaking-stupid Batman voice. I suspect if you told Gervais he had to rip “The Fighter” but he could only use actual material from the movie, he would have no choice but to reference the cast that makes up Micky’s and Dickie’s sisters.

Apologies to Kate B. O’Brien (fun fact: she is Conan’s sister), Jenna Lamia, Dendrie Taylor, Jill Quigg, Erica McDermott, Bianca Hunter, and Melissa McMeekin… but good googily! The sisters usually appear on-screen together (they all live at home) and while much of it is likely creative wardrobe and makeup, it is fair to say they are such an ugly group that they incite laughter.

Seriously. It is similar to when a late-night comedy show host is doing his monologue and the audience reacts before the punch line. Conan, for example, will try to use Justin Bieber in a joke’s premise only to have the audience start booing before he can actually tell the joke. The women that play the sisters in “The Fighter” are so remarkably ugly that the audience I sat in laughed whenever director David O. Russell cut to a shot of them all together.

Why am I spending so much time establishing how ugly these women are? I guess it is difficult to watch Gervais slam celebrities for three and a half hours without it rubbing off on you a little.

The larger point is this: “The Fighter” is excellent. Based on the true story of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward and his unlikely rise to success in the 1980s, Russell’s movie actually winds up dealing with an issue we can all relate to: family. In fact, if you are having family troubles, I cannot recommend “The Fighter” highly enough. Spend two hours and six minutes with the Ward clan and you will feel like your family is made up of angels.

Micky, our hero, has talent. He can box. He is also loyal to a fault. He, and everyone else, knows that his brother Dickie is a crack-addict. Still, Micky relies on Dickie to train him, guide him, and manage him. Guess how that goes? Micky’s mom, Alice (Melissa Leo, who also snagged a Golden Globe) is a control freak who maddeningly idolizes Dickie, not Micky. The sisters, well, we have already discussed them. It takes the appearance of saucy little Charlene (Amy Adams) to get Micky to realize it isn’t a good idea to let a crack-addict manage your career.

Sometimes, “The Fighter” feels alarmingly formulaic. That’s the best part about being “based on a true story,” though. Formulaic? So, what? It is true!

Even soon-to-be-black-balled Ricky Gervais would have a hard time finding much to poke fun at (besides the sisters) in “The Fighter.”

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