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How 'The Fighter's' First Screening Was Received

“I haven’t seen a crowd like this since I performed with the Funky Bunch!” said producer/costar Mark Wahlberg.


Tuesday night’s not-too-secret screening of Paramount’s long-awaited boxing drama The Fighter kayo’d a packed AFI Fest audience at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

“I haven’t seen a crowd like this since I performed with the Funky Bunch!” said producer/costar Mark Wahlberg, feeling good vibrations. “I had to do a lotta cheating and stealing and lying to get this movie made … If there’s anybody who doesn’t enjoy this movie, I’ll come to your house, I’ll cook, clean, move shit. Y’know, I did it to get the movie made, I’ll do it for anyone!”

Only so far, it’s tough to find someone who doesn’t like director David O. Russell’s fact-inspired saga of “Irish” Micky Ward and his screwup, crackhead, cop-punching brother Dickie, who trained Micky for triumph, broke his heart (plus a bone or two), fought Sugar Ray and starred in HBO’s documentary High on Crack Street. Sight unseen until now, not released until Dec. 10, The Fighter had already hit #9 on the Gurus o’Gold and both GoldDerby.com best picture prediction lists.

GoldDerby’s experts made Christian Bale as Dickie and Melissa Leo as the boxers’ appealingly appalling mom their #1 picks for supporting actor/actress. The AFI screening won’t hurt their odds. THR’s unscientific crowd poll supports the buzz that The Fighter, Bale and Leo are Oscar contenders. Interviewees doubted Amy Adams had a chance as Micky’s two-fisted heartthrob, and Wahlberg looks infinitely likelier to score as producer than best actor. “Bale! Oscar all the way,” said one muscular guy after the show.

“The guy’s from Wales, and he plays a guy from Southie [actually blue-collar Lowell, Mass.]. Pretty impressive! We’re from the East Coast, and it’s got a lotta reality.” “I didn’t think it was gruesome,” he added. Dickie may be a raging bullshitter, but there’s scant Raging Bull bloodspray to scare off squeamish voters.

The crack scenes struck no interviewee as grueling, and the crowd apparently liked the reality-anchored comedy that leavens the tale, and not mind a lesser gravitas factor than 2005 Oscar magnet Million Dollar Baby. There’s just enough woe and grit to appeal to The Wrestler voters, especially in SAG. Some say Wahlberg’s Rocky-like struggle to get the film made will win voters over, but I think everybody struggles to make a film these days, and the real key is the family feelings preview viewers kept mentioning.

“They should nominate every one of those six sisters!,” said one woman, referring to the boxer brothers’ hilariously horridly coiffed siblings, exuberantly squabblesome, like refugees from Real Housewives of Massachusetts Trashville. Traumatized by scary times, audiences are battening down the hatches and hunkering down with loved ones. The attitude seems to be akin to that of the toast reportedly made at the late Dominick Dunne’s holiday table: “We may be fucked up, but we’re a family!”

Americans -- and probably Oscar voters – crave to find realistic yet dramatic fictional families they can identify with, especially ones that make it through tough times together. Like the ruffianly ensembles in Wahlberg’s Entourage and The Fighter. Here’s the most significant reaction I heard from a The Fighter watcher: “Straight up, it makes me want to call my brother.”