Million Dollar Baby Girl

So I got suckerpunched by Million Dollar Baby and wasn’t too happy about it. I won’t go into detail on that because I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen it. But I will comment on the film as Oscar contender: It isn’t Oscar-worthy. It isn’t a great film. It’s effective, and entertaining, and absorbing, but it’s still a formula genre picture and it’s full of cliches. Several plot holes too, and a very rushed pace that was unsatisfying.

Yet, there has always been something interesting about Clint Eastwood’s films that I can’t really put my finger on. It is something to do with his interest in gender relations. He seems to choose projects–formula genre projects, yes–that leave room for him to deal with his own old-fashioned “grizzled” (over-used word) masculinity confronting a new kind of assertive femininity. All of his films have fantastic chemistry for this reason, and here again the chemistry between Eastwood and Swank is sparkling. It’s apparent way back in my favorite of his films, A Perfect World (an overlooked gem that you should rent if you can) with Laura Dern as FBI agent sparring with Eastwood as a Texas Ranger. He seems to be reluctantly fascinated with these tough-but-still-feminine broads, and it seems to have its culmination in his support of the girl boxer in Million Dollar Baby. I sort of see it as Eastwood–now looking every bit of his 75 years–passing the torch and finally coming to grips with this “new woman”.

That’s not to say that this is a feminist film, by any stretch of imagination. It’s a very male film. It’s not about a girl boxer, really, it’s about Eastwood’s character. She, like many other sacrificial lambs in big Hollywood films, exists merely to teach the white male a lesson. She is the martyr. She enters his life a perfect submissive–eagerly eating up his insults and patiently waiting for his attentions to turn to her, and then becoming the perfect empty vessel for him to implant with his knowledge and training. She may have a mean right hook, but she succeeds by her unquestioning devotion and loyalty to him. He even re-names her with a Gaelic nickname, has it embroidered on her robes, but won’t tell her what the name means. And she accepts that. And when we find out what it means–“My Darling”–it’s so touching that you don’t really think about the fact that the name isn’t a name really, it’s a sign of his possession. She has no name, she has been erased. She’s just his darling.

But that’s sort of an extreme reading. The film is clearly portraying these two as surrogate father and daughter for each other, as his daughter isn’t speaking to him and her dad is long gone. She’s eager for his guidance because she’s never had a father, and he’s getting to make up for being an absent father to his daughter. And it works, you feel very good that these two people have found each other. (Oh and the truly gorgeous little girl in the truck is one of Eastwood’s many, many, many real-life daughters. The man has plenty of daughter material to mine.)

15 Responses to “Million Dollar Baby Girl”

  1. Jen
    January 31st, 2005 | 8:47 am

    Thank god I found someone else who didn’t think this was an amazing film. I can’t believe it’s gotten so much praise! Or that Swank won the Golden Globe — her character was the least fleshed-out of any of them. Oy. I hope some of the other contenders are better, because my faith in movies is severely shaken by this one.

  2. cynthia rockwell
    January 31st, 2005 | 2:43 pm

    yeah the all-around praise it’s getting is bizarre. hard to avoid
    making boxing metaphors, but the film really does take a majorly cheap
    shot. glad to find a kindred, though. my female companion didn’t like
    it either…i think it must be a guy thing. most of the critics are men.

  3. Filmbrain
    February 1st, 2005 | 10:47 am

    I actually think you are being too kind to it.

    I was sickened by the relationship between the two — Eastwood’s approach is a giant leap backwards for feminism. The young “girlie” who is nothing without the big strong man — can’t do it without him, needs him, etc. (I could say more – but don’t want to spoil it.) The “mo-cuish-le” thing was also pathetic — could she not learn what the word meant without his help? Given her rise in popularity, all she had to do was read an article about herself. But no, Eastwood’s women are nothing without men. (Remember the wife in Mystic River? She doesn’t even have a voice.)

    I could go on and on about what else is wrong with the film, but I’ve done that on plenty of other sites already. . .

  4. cynthia rockwell
    February 1st, 2005 | 11:49 am

    yeah, i don’t disagree with any of that, and as i said the nickname basically erases her identity. but at the same time i think feminism fails to acknowledge that some people, for their own psychological reasons, need this kind of relationship. a girl who never had a father and craves that relationship isn’t going to stop craving just because feminism tells her it’s not the strong thing to do. and a man who is admitting his own old-fashioned masculine bias is at least grappling with the issue. i’m not a wholehearted supporter of eastwood’s films, i just think they’re interesting for this reason. no one lives in a perfect feminist world–men like this exist, and women like this exist. and i wouldn’t expect a man who is acknowledging his own male bias to be capable of producing a feminist film. his films are what they are. not at all perfect or politically correct, but they are an expression of one man’s view of the world. or, more specifically, one old-fashioned man’s attempts to grapple with a modern world that is increasingly out of his control. the very fact that it expresses itself in his preference for male characters who dominate women is interesting to me.

  5. Mika Cooper
    February 1st, 2005 | 2:56 pm

    i haven’t seen it yet, so i’ve deliberately avoided reading sentences that seem to reveal much detail about it.

    but i would like to agree that eastwood has, for many years, been very interested in exploring women’s inner experience—or at least spending a lot of screen time acknowledging it—beginning with _sudden impact_ and also in _unforgiven_, both of whose plots are driven by women’s responses to sexual violence and both of which take a strong sympathetic stand with the women. even in _sudden impact_ the film is very much about violent dirty testosteroney harry’s having to confront and acknowledge a woman’s inner experience.

    i’m not saying his feminist analysis is extremely profound. but i’m saying it strikes me as honest and, in _unforgiven_ at least (which i’ve taught a few times) extremely powerful and carefully considered. i read _unforgiven_, btw, as in part eastwood’s return to, and reevaluation from the perspective of age and experience of, the two roles that made him famous—the gunslinger with no name from the sergio leone flix (who becomes william munny) and don siegel’s rogue cop dirty harry (who becomes violent sheriff little bill daggett).

  6. Filmbrain
    February 1st, 2005 | 4:14 pm

    Fair enough. I think it wouldn’t bother/anger me so much if critics hadn’t ejaculated praise all over it. This is bad, bad storytelling — clich

  7. cynthia rockwell
    February 2nd, 2005 | 5:46 am

    funny, i can’t recall much about girlfight except that i found it preposterous. MDB is no less so, but girlfight is living in a fashionable liberal fantasy and that’s no less annoying.

    and mika–i like your phrasing, that eastwood’s characters are ‘confronting women’s experience.’ i’m thinking of ‘in the line of fire’ as well–the sparring between him and rene russo, secret service agent. especially when he sees her in a painted-on evening gown and asks her, “where do you keep your gun?” i love that line.

  8. leet
    February 15th, 2005 | 9:46 pm

    I thought this was a great movie, great to watch, and freeman and clunk had some great lines.

  9. don seggerman
    April 23rd, 2006 | 9:18 pm

    You feminists really need to find something else to do…

  10. Billybobjoebrooklyn
    July 20th, 2006 | 5:32 am

    Mystic River was horrid, overrated, over glorified POS junk in full. This was OK I thought, but yeah, definitely not all that. Id say 6/10.

  11. Mocuishle
    August 12th, 2006 | 1:43 am

    This is the best movie ever

  12. July 15th, 2007 | 1:14 pm

    i love this film it relates to me and my sister.It more interestin because its about a girl rather thean a boy.So girls that box will relate to the film more.

  13. Sam
    December 1st, 2007 | 9:51 pm

    You guys have no brains at all. Your the kinda people that turn good things into bad things. Most of you guys are literally idiots!!! The movie was great! A classic!

  14. Adam
    February 21st, 2008 | 10:02 am

    I like this film because it transcends the characters male or female. There is a sense of solice in each of the stages of the film along with an acceptance: a trust. Moreover, there is an understanding of forgiveness, regret and what one can possibly term peace.

    Nonetheless the film is clearly simplistic and admittedly brutally violent. This combination has resulted in what is only slightly more than a merely bearly digestible ‘American’ classic.

  15. Smruti
    April 8th, 2008 | 2:19 pm

    i think there is an underlying quality of surreal peace. All the characters morgan freeman, swank and clint eastwood seem to be in possession of it. becomes a lil difficult to buy.

    if u walk in to be swayed, like i did, u will enjoy every bit of it. if u r going to be a critic then that angle can ruin anything.