Like any art form, movies have the power to heal and sooth us. Maybe you see a bit of yourself in a story, or perhaps the themes presented in a film speak directly to a particular problem you’re facing and make you feel like everything’s going to be okay after all. Maybe a film gives you solace because it reminds you of someone you miss.
Or maybe there is no reason. Sometimes a movie just works for you emotionally without any direct connection to your life. You can search and search for some specific element that explains why a story resonates so deeply yet still come up empty handed. That’s certainly the case with me and Rocky Balboa.
For the last two years I’ve been going through the sudden build up to and cruel aftermath of a divorce I didn’t want. Many awful things have happened in that time, and the whole thing sunk me. Inexplicably, my go-to movie throughout this whole ordeal has been Rocky Balboa. I’ve deviated a bit (this whole post probably could have also been written about They Came Together), but for the most part, whenever I feel like watching something yet don’t know exactly what I’m in the mood for, Rocky Balboa wins out and always keeps me riveted.
But Rocky Balboa has nothing to do with my life. I don’t care about boxing, I’ve spent most of my life below poverty level and worked plenty of blue collar jobs but wouldn’t self-identify as that working class kind of guy. I don’t see myself as an underdog, I’m not Italian, and I have no particular fondness for Philadelphia.
There’s an obvious answer here. Rocky spends the film dealing with the loss of his wife, Adrian. But while I find that very emotional, I’m not really responding to it from a deeply personal place. I’m moved more by the honesty and power of Sylvester Stallone’s performance and the loss of a character I’ve known for five movies.
The truth is, I just love Rocky. I love his sweetness, his earnestness, his integrity, and his simplicity. I love seeing Stallone actually act and believe Rocky Balboa offers the finest example of him doing that (his amazing performance in Creed gives it a real challenge, though).
Rocky Balboa showcases one of cinema’s great characters with a patience that hasn’t been utilized since the first film. It’s pretty much all Rocky all the time, and he’s a joy. The plot gives him a direction, but doesn’t really drive the film until the very end (which doesn’t make Rocky’s training or fight any less rewarding; they almost feel like exciting bonuses to a film you already enjoyed). It’s a gentle film, largely focused on kindness with a quiet melancholy tone. That’s not something you see often, particularly done well and with the added benefit of focusing on a character you love.
This smaller, more concentrated focus leads me to err on the side of Rocky Balboa more than the original Rocky or, I suspect, the excellent Creed when the time comes for me to buy it, even though both are superior films. Balboa’s not the best of the series, but it is easily my favorite.
So I am sincerely thankful for Rocky Balboa. It helps legitimize a series that had lost its way (the same could be said about what it did for Stallone himself). Its existence enriches Creed a great deal. But most of all I’m grateful for all the times it offered me peace when I needed it.