spoilers and all that
Last Saturday, in obeisance to the Oscars, I went to see a matinee showing of Million Dollar Baby, which in my head always sounds like “Meeeeelion Dollar Baby”. I went not so much to see that film in particular as to raise my proportion of personally viewed Oscar-nominated films from two to three out of five. Although there is a certain glee in accurately predicting Oscar wins without the benefit of informed opinion (ie, having seen the nominated movies), I often feel like I’m missing out on some essential core, some vital element that would compel me to care about the race between the mediocre, the showy and the sentimental that is the Oscars.
I walked out of the film feeling heavy, as if I had eaten a dozen loaves of waterlogged Wonder Bread. No need to go see Ray or take the ludicrous step of tracking down Finding Neverland (as if); there was simply no escape from the totalitarian hold that MDB takes on the emotions. Who would have thought that a film about women beating the living shit out of each other could be so sentimental? Like the evil East German opponent that cracks Hilary Swank’s neck (Yes! At the moment of her triumph, Swank’s plucky white trash boxer is ambushed and injured, spending the rest of the movie paralyzed and lisping and slowly losing limbs in a hospital bed! Now you know the entire last act of the film, except for the ending, in which Eastwood’s character reverts to a primitive Gaelic-spewing peasant and kills her with a shillelagh!), MDB gallops out from the corner, hits you repeatedly when you're on your knees and elbows your carotid as soon as you pause for breath. It’s a bit like Love Story with frequent rubdowns and those mouthpieces that turn beautiful people into inbred apes.
It was also a cinch to win because the story of its production – feisty outsider fights its way into the ring with the champions and wins BIG BIG BIG – so closely resembles the plot of the first two acts of the movie, even though MDB’s plucky humility pales a bit next to the smaller-budgeted and lower-watted Sideways (and the whole affair pales to paste next to Before Sunset). In this case, though, there would be no tragic ending. Fans hoping to see Martin Scorcese roundhouse Eastwood on his way to the stage would, I knew, be seriously disappointed. Everyone wants to go for the sure-thing underdog, the king in rags. MDB, like its protagonist, is a million dollar baby. Or it would be, if the main characters weren't a collection of over-the-hill hillbillies and born-too-lates but a group of experienced Hollywood players.