Yinzer Pride is No Reason to See Pittsburgh-Shot 'Southpaw'
Despite a talented cast, “Southpaw” is a lazy, troubling, dreadfully-intentioned waste of time.
photos by The Weinstein Company
I’m pretty sure I’m echoing our own Virginia Montanez on this, but here’s an important reminder: You don’t have to love things from Pittsburgh just because they’re from Pittsburgh.
You are as free to be skeptical of, indifferent to or downright disinterested in locally-made stuff as you are stuff that comes from other corners of the world. Is it nice to give a hometown bump to worthy work? Sure! But is everything created near the confluence worth your time — and money — just because it has a bit of black and gold DNA? Of course not.
Why bring this up? Because “Southpaw,” the locally-shot movie that brought stars Rachel McAdams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson to town last year is arriving in theaters.
The film opens with a dominant victory by prize fighter Billy Hope (Gyllenhaal), an undefeated rage machine with no interest in defense. His beautiful wife Maureen (McAdams), whom Billy met as a teenager in an orphanage, is seated at ringside, stressed. Billy wins the fight, but Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gomez), a wannabe rival, gets in his face at the post-match press conference; at home, Maureen wonders if Billy plans to retire before he can’t think straight. (Particularly since he takes more punches than any boxing champion since … well, ever.)
But see, Billy is an unlikable, unrelatable, unsupportable jerk, so he scoffs at Maureen’s concern. I’m baffled that screenwriter Kurt Sutter (of “Sons of Anarchy”) thought that his protagonist was in any way worth rooting for; later in the film, Billy holds guns to the heads of his closest friends, neglects his young daughter until she’s taken by the state and generally destroys everything around him.
I’m skipping ahead, though; the key moment in “Southpaw” occurs when Escobar talks trash at a charity event, leading to a black-tie brawl during which Maureen is shot and killed. It is in grief that Billy turns from garden-variety jerk into rampaging sociopath, though when you see him walking away from his weeping daughter to trash a memorabilia case, you won’t be able to muster much sympathy.
In short: “Southpaw” is a lazy, troubling, dreadfully-intentioned waste of time. Maureen’s death is objectification at its most pure — the beautiful woman taken from the hulking man, serving no purpose to the narrative beyond that of a stolen artifact — and the road to emotional catharsis is only achieved via violence. (The fact that that conflict is sanctioned in a boxing ring is no excuse; to Sutter and director Antoine Fuqua, it seems that pummeling an opponent is great therapy.)
Ever since Pittsburgh established itself as a cozy home for Hollywood productions, we’ve taken great pride in seeing our city on the big screen. Whether it’s a project set in and even born out of the city — “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” — or Pittsburgh standing in for somewhere else — Indianapolis in “The Fault in Our Stars,” Gotham in “The Dark Knight Rises” — we’re eager to buy a ticket to spot local landmarks, support the local cast and crew who got in on the action and give ourselves license to tell friends, “Did you see that? It was great! And they made it here!”
But don’t let that understandable civic pride and curiosity override your good taste. Does “Southpaw,” an unpleasant, reductive, repetitive trip down overrun cinematic territory — and I’m referring to both the boxing and the sexism, there — sound like a good reason to drop $10 and fill up two hours of your weekend?
If not, don’t consider it your yinzer duty to go. We love our town, but we can still tell good from bad.
And “Southpaw” is bad.