Heavyweight almost-champ Chuck Wepner was a character long before he inspired Sylvester Stallone to pen Rocky. But Wepner is no Rocky Balboa. Sure, he comes from a working-class town (Bayonne, New Jersey), and when he boxed, he took a good punch, bled like a hemophiliac and dreamed of taking home that giant gold belt. But Stallone gleaned only what he wanted from the gentle giant and left out the messy human bits, such as Wepner's flagrant philandering and his obstinance.
In Chuck, director Philippe Falardeau attempts to repair that dissonance, stitching up the two competing sides of the real-life boxer into a whole human. The result is a meta-biopic: This is supposed to be the true story behind Rocky, but the reality of Wepner's life -- or how he tells it, at least -- is still the stuff of movies, though this time it's a comedy, driven by a knockout lead performance from Liev Schreiber.
The film opens with Chuck getting suited up in the backroom of a bar. His opponent is a literal bear. Schreiber contorts his face, looking past the glaring ring lights into the crowd -- is this what it's come to? Through voiceover, loverswe travel back -- before the bear, before Rocky, before his first wife, Phyliss (Elisabeth Moss), leaves him -- to when he was just the "Bleeder from Bayonne."
The scene where Chuck auditions with Sly for a role has disaster written all over it. Chuck is boozed and high, stumbling on every word. Stallone tells him, "You got this. Just be yourself." But that's the crux of this film: This is his self. Chuck is a philandering heel on the one hand and a boxer with a heart of gold on the other.