|Liev Schreiber in Chuck. (IFC Films)|
MOVIE REVIEWYou may or may not have heard that the 1976 movie Rocky was inspired by a real boxer named Chuck Wepner, but you probably haven’t heard the whole story which is chronicled in the movie simply titled Chuck. Directed by Philippe Falardeau (The Good Lie), Chuck tells the story of the highs and mostly lows of former boxer who once got in the ring with Muhammad Ali and lasted for about 15 rounds in 1975. That event is what inspired Sylvester Stallone to write the script for Rocky and the rest is a history of success – well, at least for Stallone. For Wepner, it’s a different story.
Chuck shares the good, the bad and the ugly of Wepner’s life. By all accounts, Wepner comes across as a good guy who does bad things. He abuses drugs and alcohol and he cheats on his wife but he’s always the charmer. He boxes in the ring, writes poems and even gets a shot of playing a part in a Rocky sequel. As a boxer, Wepner had some fame, but in his mind, he was bigger and more powerful than he really was. It is Chuck’s perceived fame that gets him into trouble. He thinks of himself as a legend and tells everybody that he’s Rocky. He wears fur coats and sunglasses, hangs out in discos and erroneously believes that he can’t be touched. He later gets into the business of selling drugs appearing to not really understand the mistakes that he’s making until much later in the movie.
Like most of the actors in the movie, Live Schreiber is almost unrecognizable in the role of Chuck. He becomes Chuck and certainly believable as a boxer. It would be easy for an actor to give off the wrong vibe for the role, but Schreiber gives the character the charm and wit he needs to be likable. Elisabeth Moss plays his long-suffering wife Phyliss who forgives him for his sins much longer than she should. Must have something to do Catholic guilt. However, Phyllis isn’t exactly a pushover either. She isn’t afraid to stand up to him.
Naomi Watts plays another strong woman, who has the same birthday as Wepner (and mine too by the way). With her hair dyed red and with a strong Brooklyn accent, it would be easy to mistake her for another actress. While she is easily charmed by Chuck, she refuses to become “the other woman” in his life. She seems to understand Chuck’s life better than he does.
The biggest surprise is finding out that comedian Jim Gaffigan plays Chuck’s good but slightly dimwitted friend, John. I didn’t even realize that he was in the movie until the credits rolled on the screen. Again, another unrecognizable performance which is good enough to help some of us get over his portrayal of playing Colonel Sanders in those terrible KFC commercials.
Unlike Rocky, this movie is rated “R” with lots of vulgar language and some nudity. It’s not glamorous in the least and leaves you with a sick feeling. However, Wepner does manage to turn his life around in the end by learning to take responsibility for his own actions and repairing relationships that he has hurt along the way. It’s not exactly a rags to riches tale, but you get the sense that Wepner lives a much happier life now than he did many years ago. It’s a fascinating story that is more fun to watch than you think would be.
Related: My interview with Chuck director, Philippe Falardeau>>>