The “real Rocky Balboa” comes to life through the career of Chuck Wepner in Philippe Falardeau’s latest movie, Chuck. Although the film carries cliché characteristics of a biographical drama centering on an upcoming talent seeking redemption and fame, the movie carries a rather light and humorous flow thanks to the narration of Wepner (Liev Schreiber) who doesn’t take himself too seriously. Rather than mulling over and contemplating the downfalls of his newfound glory, he sits back and enjoys the ride. Both the self-confidence and self-consciousness that’s very well performed by Shreiber makes this film a watchable one despite being a predictable one.
Known as the “Bayonne Bleeder,” Wepner is already a mini-celebrity in small town Bayonne, New Jersey, greeted at a bar with cheers. He’s a happy-go-lucky kind of chap, walking through town and the rings with confidence and charm. But he’s not so much of a celebrity figure at his home, incessantly cheating on his wife, Phyllis (a wonderful Elisabeth Moss), who doesn’t fail to let Wepner know where her limits lie. And it’s well worth noting that Moss kills it in the diner scene.
His “mini” celebrity status as a fighter, changes when he receives the opportunity to fight Muhammad Ali in the world heavyweight champion. He’s aware that the odds are against him and doesn’t fear losing. He just wants to make a presence and show people that he belongs there. And of course, also go down a winding path of drugs, booze and women.
The confidence and celebratory glory that Wepner displays comes from self-consciousness that’s both ironic and enjoyable. He seeks validation and confidence of his life and career through Rocky – Sylvester Stallone’s then Oscar winning drama which was inspired and based off the career of Wepner. It’s quite entertaining watching him meet Stallone and seeing how his on-screen character becomes this sort of idol for himself. Moreover, what a pity it was that he couldn’t be more involved in the Rocky movies.
Chuck’s a self-destructive and messy guy to begin with in his personal life. Fighting doesn’t necessarily help him pick up the pieces – it’s not the answer to his problems. The part when the downfall and comeback occurs isn’t strong enough to validate the story and characters as strong ones, but Shreiber and Moss’s wonderful performances along with the humor and warmth the film brings in, avoids what could’ve been an even more trite and dramatic underdog film. So for that, I give Chuck props.