A drama inspired by the life of heavyweight boxer Chuck Wepner, who had a once-in-a-lifetime bout with Muhammad Ali that would inspire the film Rocky (1976).A drama inspired by the life of heavyweight boxer Chuck Wepner, who had a once-in-a-lifetime bout with Muhammad Ali that would inspire the film Rocky (1976).A drama inspired by the life of heavyweight boxer Chuck Wepner, who had a once-in-a-lifetime bout with Muhammad Ali that would inspire the film Rocky (1976).
Clearly, his marriage to Phyllis was an error and having a daughter even more so because Wepner was completely absorbed in his boxing exploits, his side jobs, his sexual conquests and, ultimately, his identification with the tragic role played by Anthony Quinn in REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT, to the point of knowing his lines off by heart and feeling that he shares something with that unfortunate soul; and his fascination with the film, ROCKY, and its central character and rising movie star Sylvester Stallone, to the point of celebrating that film's Best Picture and Best Director awards as if they were his own, and of almost making Balboa his alter ego, all reflect his scattered personality and weakness of purpose.
That fascination with a celluloid, larger than life, hero also causes him to jump the boundaries of safe life into the dangers of drug addiction. I find the film brutally honest about that and about his break-up with his wife, played with considerable aplomb and force by Elisabeth Moss, as someone who refuses to be duped by the fake world of boxing, movies, and other illusions entertained by Wepner.
The scene where Schreiber (Wepner) goes to his daughter's school and completely misses the plot, partly because he is under the influence of drugs, is a classic in its simplicity, truth, and quality of acting by all involved.
Wepner's honesty about his boxing limitations is a point in his favor, and one that allows the viewer to develop some sympathy for the man.
I also found the Wepner-Stallone relationship very effectively and succinctly observed. Clearly, in real life Stallone is not the good guy that Balboa was. Stallone did nothing to assist Wepner, with bail for instance, when he was tried and jailed for drug possession. And yet Stallone used Wepner as the source for his script of ROCKY, earning considerable fortune and fame as a result. The scene where Stallone is doing press ups in the jail facility where Wepner is an inmate, all to do with ROCKY III and Balboa's descent from grace and into jail, is also very effectively put across, with not a frame too many.
Wepner's friend, John Stahl, clearly was not a good influence, and did not mind riding his pal's wave of fame, womanizing, drug taking, and so forth, but never there when really needed, with any really helpful contribution. He comes across as a party parasite with a sense of humor, and reminds you of just how dangerous such friendships can be.
There are, however, characters who restore hope in mankind: Phyllis is a really good and caring wife, someone whose honesty and real love for Wepner allow her to see that their relationship cannot go on, and has the courage to break it off; Linda, Wepner's second wife, is more detached but has the right values. And Wepner earns our respect for seeing Stallone for what he is.
Best of all, Wepner's brother, Donny, who steps in to help his undeserving brother. He complains bitterly about Wepner's selfishness, but you wish everyone were as honest and caring, and this would be a far better world.
Falardeau's direction is assured and extremely competent. No fancy camera work, good use of boxing footage from the time, and he extracts credible and keenly felt performances from the entire cast. Schreiber is very good, Moss superlative, Watts in an unusually self-effacing role that serves her well -- but it is the actor (I do not know his name) who plays the small role of Donny, Wepner's brother, that really stays with me for the sheer honesty and naturalism of his acting.
Competent script, too, keeping as close to real life as possible. Unfortunately, the source material would never permit the kind of emotional uplift that could have rendered CHUCK a masterpiece in the restricted niche of sports-related movies - but it is definitely worth watching.
- Jul 15, 2017