In this installment of the Rocky series, the fighter is retired. He owns and runs a restaurant named after his late wife, Adrian, whom we discover has died of cancer. His life isn’t going too smooth: his son (whom he deeply loves) is fighting to get out from under his shadow, Paulie (as always) has his own issues, and Rocky’s got some of his own—primarily surrounding Adrian’s death. Still feeling the fire in his “basement,” Rocky decides to return to the local boxing circuit as part of his struggle to work through this part of his life. When the reigning professional heavyweight champion fears his legacy is in jeopardy from a series of unchallenging fights, he challenges Rocky to an exhibition fight. And queue the theme music that got my eyes all watery.
Yeah, the film is overtly nostalgic—but then I like nostalgia when it’s done halfway decent, and this film solidly does that in my opinion—but I thought there were also a couple of noteworthy and respectable aspects and elements in the film. In particular, I thought the thread of Rocky still dealing with the loss of Adrian was well done. The best of the thread came in small parts—especially the glimpses of Rocky's routine of sitting on a wooden chair (which he stores in a tree nearby) in front of Adrian’s headstone and the raw emotion threatening to explode as he confesses his turmoil to Paulie at one point (“It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” Rocky says in a broken voice).
But the most resonating thread in the film for me was Rocky’s care and attention to Marie and her son. She’s a bartender he meets one night on the anniversary of Adrian’s death, but it turns out she’s also a girl (“Little Marie?!” Rocky queries) he once walked home and gave a bit of stern advice to straighten out her life. And even as he’s still dealing with the angst and pain of Adrian’s death, his age has bequeathed wisdom and compassion. He senses her own woundedness—and he responds. It’s small actions mostly: a ride home, inviting she and her son for dinner, changing a burnt-out lightbulb on her stoop, taking her son with him on weekends, offering her a job when the hostess of his restaurant leaves.
At one point, after she and her son have eaten at his restaurant and Rocky’s driven them home to their very rundown neighborhood, they stand outside on the sidewalk and he asks if he can hire her son for a couple of odd jobs. Marie straightforwardly asks him about his motives:
Marie: “Why you being so nice?”And there was light—the best kind of light. It reminded me of the Light of the Kingdom. The kind of Light that only real love can bring. The kind of Light that invites people out of darkness. The kind of Light that brings right-ness and relationship and community and family-likness to a broken world of broken people. It’s the kind of Light that changes lives. And it’s the kind of Light we walk in and bring with us into the world every minute of every day. It's the relentless Light of God. And it's the Light we have the incredible opportunity to share with and invite others into with actions as simple as changing a light bulb. We just need to pay attention.
Rocky looks a little uncomfortable.
Rocky: “I don’t want you to think nothing's off. My wife, you know, she’s gone but she ain’t, you know.”
Marie (laughing): “Yeah, well, I wasn’t thinking that, believe me.”
Rocky is relieved but (humorously) a little affronted. Marie smiles at him—
Rocky (curious): “Then what was you thinking?”
Marie: “That you don’t owe us nothing—what're you doing?”
Rocky is walking up the stairs to the stoop and takes a light bulb out of his pocket.
Rocky (over his shoulder): “Be patient.”
He takes out the old burnt-out bulb and starts to screw in the new one, talking over his shoulder—
Rocky: “Nah, I don’t owe you nothing. But why you gotta owe something to get—
Rocky interrupsts himself as he’s blinded by the light of the new bulb. The light is the brightest on the dark street.
Rocky: “Yeo! Yikes! Bingo.”
Marie smiles and laughs.
Rocky (looking down at her from the stoop): “Why you gotta owe something in order to get something, you know? Really.”
He walks down the steps to the sidewalk. She smiles and squints in the brightness of the new light bulb.
Rocky: “You know, I think hanging out with your kid would be nice. What do you think?”
Marie smiles and nods.
Marie: “I think that’d be nice.”
He walks back to his van—
Rocky: “Good. That’s very nice. I’m glad you came by. Nice watching you eat. Good company.”
He opens the door and gets in. Before he turns on the ignition, he leans up to the crack in the window and yells to Marie—
Rocky: “Yo, Little Marie. Let there be light!”
That Rocky pays attention like that even in the midst of his own pain is one of the more powerful parts of this film. I deeply appreciated that Sly Stallone (who also wrote and directed the film) didn’t make this thread into a romance. Stallone has indicated in interviews in the last year that he’s become a Christian. If so, this thread takes on even more depth.
Anyway, I enjoyed the film and recommend it (especially if you are of my, urm, generation). For more professional opinions, see Christianity Today’s review (where it got 3 out of 4 stars from fav of this blog Peter Chattaway) and a collection of other reviews at Rotten Tomatoes—where it got a “certified fresh” rating of 76%, thank you very much. Heh.
So, yo, Rocky! You done good!
(Images: DVD screen captures copyrighted by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)