If you’ve read my reviews, or know me in person, you know I’m the kind of person who’s unnecessarily negative about sentimental entertainment. I’d be a cynic, if I wasn’t the kind of person who claims to be one. What I really am is a thwarted idealist who makes fun of movies that most people enjoy.
So when I watched Rocky Balboa the other day, many mockable elements presented themselves to me. And I found myself unable to grasp at any of them. This movie is so innocent, so like its title character, that I refuse to find fault. I was never an adolescent boy, so I missed that essential “Rocky” period, but after this movie I went right back and watched the original. And loved it too.
The (hopefully) final installment in the series finds Rocky alone, his wife dead and his son somewhat estranged. He runs his restaurant, takes care of the people he can, and yearns for some of the fire of his youth. His physicality, despite pushing 60, is not yet spent. Into this mid-life testosterone fog comes the ESPN computer simulation which claims that Rocky Balboa, at his height, would have trounced current heavyweight champ Mason Dixon. You can guess the rest, but it never gets super cheesy, even though you can pick out the lines that should be.
It’s hard to describe why these movies, at least the first and last of the series, work for me where so many Hollywood offerings fall flat. There’s just as much talk of the heart here, just as much underdog pathos, but Rocky makes it believable. It’s clear that Stallone, who wrote and (less successfully) directed this movie, loves these characters and that love comes through so honestly that it makes me love them, too. There are no bad guys in Rocky’s world, and no losers. The important thing about Rocky is that though it’s about the triumph of the underdog, the underdog doesn’t actually have to win. He just has to keep fighting. I’m not saying I’m ready to go be a boxer or my life has been changed in any other way, but I’m more than willing to buy into this guy for a few hours at a time. Very little about uncomplicated feel-goodiness makes me happy, but Rocky Balboa restores my faith in something nice also being fun. Like That Thing You Do, the Rocky movies have a sort of good-natured innocence, despite the sometimes unsavory motives involved, at which I cannot laugh.