Rocky: As American as Apple Pie (Featuring The Smith Brothers Blog)
Special thanks to Stuart Smith from The Smith Brothers Blog for sharing this review with us! We set out on a challenge to find the Ultimate Thanksgiving movie, and here is his! Be sure to check out the link at the bottom of the review for more from the Smith Brothers!
Rocky (1976): As American as Apple Pie
“You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.” – Rocky Balboa
Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday. It’s a day when families from all over the country gather together, enjoy a home cooked meal, and appreciate their many blessings. It’s a time to be thankful, and as Americans we have many things to be thankful for. These days it may not seem that we have much to be thankful for, but I would argue that thankfulness is a matter of perspective. We may not live in the best of times, but as an amateur historian I can assure you, it could be much, much, worse. A movie that I always like to watch this time of year, that helps me to get into the thanksgiving spirit, and that serves as a helpful reminder of why we should be grateful to live in America, is the 1976 classic Rocky.
As Americans, we love a good underdog story. Forrest Gump, Cool Runnings, Star Wars, Slumdog Millionaire, Lord of the Rings, and every movie Mel Gibson has ever made. Rocky stands out from the pack as the classic American underdog story. Sylvester Stallone plays Rocky Balboa, a down on his luck, working class, Italian American boxer, living in the slums of Philadelphia who’s given the chance of a lifetime when the world heavy-weight champion, Apollo Creed (played by the indefatigable Carl Weathers), chooses Rocky as his opponent in a boxing match celebrating the United States bicentennial.
The story itself is relatively simple, we’ve seen this set-up a million times before, but on the shoulders of Sylvester Stallone, the movie is elevated to the heights of movie greatness. Stallone was an underdog himself and his own life story mirrors the tale told in Rocky; a struggling actor stuck working as an extra who was given the chance of a lifetime. There’s a strong, personal connection between actor and character that’s so rarely seen in cinema (Victor Sjöström in Wild Strawberries, Pam Grier in Jackie Brown, and Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven are some good examples that come to mind), that gives Stallone’s performance a heart and a humanity to it. I think Stallone is a criminally underrated actor, just watch the original Rambo or Copland, it’s a shame that Stallone has been stuck playing muscle-bound, macho, knuckle heads for most of his career. Everything, from his looks and personality, to his distinctive, slurring speech make Sly a believable working-class hero.
None of this would matter if our hero didn’t have heart, and Rocky Balboa’s heart belongs to Adrian (Talia Shire), the mousy owner of a local pet shop. Their relationship is believable, full of the kind of awkward exchanges and moments expected of a real relationship. We want it to work out between them, and in that final moment in the boxing ring, when Rocky has gone the distance and is being swarmed by news reporters, all he can think to do is call out to Adrian, and our hearts melt. Of course, the other members of Rocky’s entourage are just as memorable; Adrian’s brother Paulie, played by Burt Young (before his character became intolerable in the sequels) brings some laughs as well as some surprisingly intense drama in a scene set at Thanksgiving (Ah-ha! So, that’s the connection?), Rocky’s tough-as-nails trainer Mickey, played by the legendary Burgess Meredith, who gives us such memorable lines as, “You’re gonna eat lightnin’ and you’re gonna crap thunder!”, and of course, Rocky’s opponent, Apollo Creed, who comes off as a real human being, not a monster, like his opponents in the subpar sequels (the laughable, snarling Clubber Lang in Rocky III or the robotic, Russian giant, Ivan Drago, in Rocky IV).
Rocky Balboa overcomes many trials and tribulations, both physical and mental, during the course of the film and displays much thankfulness for everything he has, especially his big chance to take on the champ. Anyone who’s seen the movie knows how Rocky’s journey ends, he loses; but not before going the distance, and showing America that persistence may not always pay-off, but that trying and failing, is far more rewarding than not trying at all. It’s a message that I think more people need to hear these days. I’m thankful for movies like Rocky that remind us why we should try every day, no matter the obstacles, no matter the successes, because life is a journey not a destination. We should be thankful for the journey, struggles and all, because it’s through tribulation that we become champions; even if we don’t win the belt.
-guest review by Stuart Smith
Thanks again to Stuart Smith from The Smith Brothers Blog for sharing their thoughts on the Ultimate Thanksgiving film with us! They have a bunch of interesting stuff on their website covering a variety of film and game related topics, so be sure to head on over there and check them out!
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And be sure to keep an eye out for a few more pitches for the Ultimate Thanksgiving Movie! Or hey, leave your own below! What is your favorite Thanksgiving movie and why? And as always, thanks for reading!