Terry Gross Got “The Fighter” All Wrong

I don’t got to the movies very often. Oddly enough, the last two movies I’ve seen in a theater were The Wrestler and The Fighter. I like a good sports movie as much as the next person but not enough to pay $10 to see them…most of the time. But I was listening to NPR today, and heard Mark Wahlberg and David O’Russell on Fresh Air talking about The Fighter. It got me thinking.

From the first time I saw a commercial for The Fighter I’ve been anxiously awaiting its release. I made a date with my cousins to see it the day after Christmas, and even braved a blizzard to get to the theater. (Full Disclosure: I’ve had a thing for Wahlberg since his Funky Bunch days.) The truth is, there was much more to my excitement about this particular movie than Wahlberg’s involvement. I’ve developed a strange appreciation for movies and television shows that are about sports…but aren’t about sports. For example, Friday Night Lights is one of my favorite shows and is undeniably oriented around football. The real heart to the show, though, is the human drama — the relationships and real-life problems that affect the characters (who happen to play football). The Fighter is a lot like this. Yes, you want to see Micky Ward triumph (just like you want the Panthers, or now the Lions, to win State) but if it weren’t for his slightly bonkers family, you wouldn’t be nearly as interested in his story.

That brings me to my next point. I love the working class culture of the Irish community in and around Boston. It fascinates me to no end. I can’t really explain it, but I love books, movies, and shows set in Dorcester, Southie, and Boston’s other Irish-boroughs. So often media deals with the criminal side of life in these neighborhoods, whether it’s The Departed, anything by Dennis Lehane, or Ben Affleck’s latest ode to Boston. The Fighter, though, is a success story — for Ward and his crack-addicted brother.

As I was listening to Terry Gross — not my favorite NPR host — talk to Wahlberg and O’Russell I was a bit miffed. She talked about how, if she were Micky ward, she would desperately want to get away from his angry sisters and nutty family. I had the opposite reaction: I was excited for the fight scene on the porch between Micky’s sisters and girlfriend and nearly lost it when the movie skipped and much of the scene was lost during my particular showing. As much as I love NPR it’s often clear that they don’t really get the lives that most Americans lead. Whether it’s Faith Middleton (who makes me actually scream at my radio) losing her mind over fancy meals on the Food Schmooz — completely oblivious to how most of us can afford to eat — or Gross shying away from the feisty Ward-Eklund sisters, I find the slightly elitist view irksome.

The family depicted in The Fighter is the closest thing I’ve seen on film to the families I know. Blended families that have to contend with drug-addiction, animosity, power-struggles and more…all while remaining a tightly knit unit. More importantly, I thought Gross missed the mark on how she interpreted some of the characters, mainly the mother, in The Fighter. Yes, Alice comes across as self-serving at times, and she’s certainly a strong personality, but she’s a woman who is trying to do the best she knows how by her kids. She may not always do the best job of looking out for her sons’ best interests, but she tries like hell, which is how most of us get through life.

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