A million in gold figurines
After tiptoeing my way around soggy Kleenexes strewn all over the floor of the theater in which I saw “Million Dollar Baby” last week, I regained my composure as quickly as possible and asked the friend who accompanied me the usual question. “So. What did you think?””I didn’t like it very much,” she said.”Why not?” I asked, trying to disguise my incredulity.”It was too Hollywood.”
Well. Let’s see. It’s a film made by Clint Eastwood, one of the most recognized names in the history of American film. And it’s got Morgan Freeman, playing the rather hackneyed Morgan Freemanesque sensitive character who has some insignificant societal role but a significant history of near-stardom and serves the primary purpose of observing the story unfolding and providing narration for it. And, we have the typical heroic symphony kicking in to tell us how to feel as we watch the good girl enter the ring as well as the foreboding orchestra thunder through when the ominous bad girl makes her way to the floor. There’s no question that “Million Dollar Baby” is Hollywood. But I’m not sure about too Hollywood. I told my friend that I thought “Million Dollar Baby,” in the same vein as “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Braveheart,” or “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” is a Hollywood film without a Hollywood ending.But she had something to say to that, too.”I think Hollywood has caught on to the fact that its audiences are more sophisticated, so it has started making films with these kinds of endings.”Also a point well-taken. Of course, I don’t want to give the ending away – that is if the whole string of Oscar and Academy Award coverage hasn’t already given it away to those of you who haven’t seen it yet.
I went to see “Million Dollar Baby” with only a few preconceptions in mind. I went in knowing nothing about it other than that it was directed by Clint Eastwood, it was a film about boxing and it won a bunch of awards. First of all, I am somebody who regards an institution like the Oscars as something highly suspicious. I believe there are a myriad of brilliant films that get completely hosed if not altogether unmentioned during this annual fashion show. Secondly, boxing is a sport for which I hold very little respect or admiration and Eastwood is somebody whose previous work I’ve found to be either phenomenal or putrid.Regardless of any of these premises, I walked out of “Million Dollar Baby” feeling genuinely moved. Maybe I’m just a sucker for the Hollywood formula, but I walked out with considerations of human frailty, self-confidence, forgiveness and countless other issues of the universe landing left hooks all over my conscience. “Million Dollar Baby,” which could have easily become “Rocky” for girls, is the story of Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), a trailer trash diner waitress who strolls into Frankie Dunn’s (Eastwood) gym one day to elicit his training and advice for her boxing hobby which, considering her family of insensitive, overweight, welfare-swindling hillbillies, is the one ray of hope in her life. The gym’s janitor and unofficial manager, Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris (Freeman), is the first to take stock of her talent. Dunn, who has a habit of overprotecting his up-and-coming champions to the point that they never become champions, finally succumbs to Fitzgerald’s requests after first telling her that she is pitiful, and at the age of 31, well past her prime.But after the partnership is made, Fitzgerald knocks out one obstacle after another on her path to becoming a champion. Even as I’m writing this, I’m aware of the plot’s obvious conventions. But again, it worked on me. Despite fulfilling his typecast, Freeman’s role didn’t bother me, Eastwood, beyond his rustic growl, put forth a touching performance and Swank – who is 2-for-2 for Oscars having also landed one for her role in 1999’s “Boys Don’t Cry,” a respectably non-Hollywood film in every way – was fantastic.
My only advice to those of you who haven’t seen “Million Dollar Baby” is this: Unless you want to end up with a handful of wet fuzz, you might want to bring more than one Kleenex.Staff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado