Legal Eagles, Raging Blondes

Boxing movies and legal dramas have long been a staple of the cinema. From Fat City and On the Waterfront  to 12 Angry Men and The Verdict, audiences love to see an underdog triumph, whether in the squared circle or the court room.
Meg Ryan doesn’t land any punches in boxing biopic Against the Ropes, although she is at times a raging blonde, in the role of Jackie Kallen, the first female manager in the blood-stained world of professional boxing.
Played here as a modern-day single female, Jackie is a golden-tressed, golden-hearted trier, who quits her job to manage rookie boxer “Lethal” Luther Shaw. Brushing aside mobbed-up promoters and opponents alike, Luther proceeds to tear through the undercards to title contention in just 15 minutes of carefully choreographed screen time.
Ryan, strutting her stuff Erin Brockovich-style, is a knockout to look at, even though she only won the part after Michelle Pfeiffer turned it down. I have no idea if Meg is better or worse than Michelle would have been. I only know after having its release date delayed by almost two years, Against the Ropes bombed at the box office in 2004.
If Against the Ropes left Meg on the canvas, I am Sam showcased Michelle Pfeiffer at her counter punching best. It may be too saccharine for some, but I am Sam does boast Laura Dern, Dakota Fanning, Sean Penn and Dianne Wiest flexing their well defined acting muscles.
Penn was a revelation as the eponymous Sam, a Beatles-loving, single father with a mental age of 7, fighting against the social system for custody of his 7-year-old daughter Lucy (Dakota Fanning).In his corner we find highly-strung, uber lawyer Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer), taking the case on a pro bono basis, to prove to her colleagues that she’s more than just a PR-hungry, morally questionable, Porsche-driving schyster.
Rita gave Pfeiffer one of the more interesting roles of her career. Michelle played her as the controlling, manic individual that she is, yet managed to convey the reasons behind her complexities, generating sympathy along the way.
Where Meg Ryan, was in full, head-turning, ultra-glossy mode in Against the Ropes, Michelle didn’t pull any punches, even kicking down a door while wearing a pair of high-heeled, suede boots.
Lovely Rita could have been a contender, unlike Jackie Kallen, whose blend of confidence and cleavage rang as phoney as a fixed fight. Throwing a mean left hook of undisputed emotion and an even meaner jab of humour, Michelle epitomised the contemporary, coiffured, over-caffeinated, career women.

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16 Comments

Filed under Retrospective

16 responses to “Legal Eagles, Raging Blondes

  1. Another pfantastic look at two incredible actresses, Paul. I’ve yet to see Against the Ropes, but Meg certainly enchants in that purple number she’s wearing in the first pic above. I also didn’t know (or have forgotten, it’s hard to know these days) that Michelle passed on that film. Very interesting.

    I Am Sam is a movie that reduced me to tears in the theater, but when I’ve revisited it since, hasn’t quite worked for me in the same way. That said, nothing about Pfeiffer’s performance has diminished in my mind, not a single moment. She’s flat-out superb here. She delivers one of her best monologues in this film – which is saying something because you know how many great monologues she’s delivered – and it never fails to make me shed a tear. It’s such an agonizingly relatable moment, where she lays bear the daily struggles so many of us wrestle with, just to keep going. It’s so raw and honest, heartbreaking and beautiful.

    I have plans to write about her work in I Am Sam, so stay tuned!

    • As you probably gathered I’m not a fan of Against the Ropes. Meg looked fabulous, especially in”that purple number” but it was quite sad watching her career go down the tubes. I think Michelle probably dodged a bullet when she turned that one down!
      We have a similar history when it comes to I am Sam. I’m not a pfan, although Michelle was the master of the monologue.
      Thanks again for chiming in. I’ll look forward to more Pfeiffer related pfun over at your place.

      • Exactly, her monologue in I am Sam is simply devastating, so utterly honest and true. It feels organic, whereas much of the film’s other emotional button-pushing doesn’t. It’s one of my favorite Pfeiffer moments, for sure. I also love a lighter moment from the film, too: when she flips the bird to other drivers while speeding through town. She’s really terrific in this film.

        The next post I’m working on is a film of Pfeiffer’s that I really don’t like but that contains another stellar Michelle performance, so hopefully I can finish that off soon!

  2. I haven’t seen Against The Ropes, but it sounds like one I’d enjoy. I Am Sam is a good film and very sad.

  3. I really like the title and the pictures give your brilliant writing that extra oomph that the ladies bring to their roles. It is interesting to hear about Meg take on a sports role of showing someone with determined courage in comparison to the ‘whimsical lovable ditzy rom coms’ people may remember her by. I can definately visualise Michelle moreso in the grieving cold yet striving woman she pursues herself in such a melodrama as I have seen in many of her other movies.

    • P.s I have only just managed to visibly make a comment after trying for so long. I have read a few of your earlier posts on the french kiss post which I haven’t been able to write a comment for despite having tried several times.

      This has occured many times on your other posts so I had to leave a like at best so my apologies if you feel I had not engaged as such. It’s an odd issue which seems unresolved. I have also been away for a long time and I do not spend as much time on here due to how ill I have fallen but rest assure, I make my very best effort to read what you write.

      • I am sorry you’ve had trouble trying to comment on my posts. It is entirely my fault. I have a bad habit of deleting posts I’m not happy with. It is very disrespectful to people who have been kind enough to read and leave a comment and it really must stop.
        I do appreciate your support and thank you for sharing your thoughts on this post. I put a lot of thought into the title and pictures so for you to mention that really made my night. Your comments on Meg and Michelle are very insightful too.

  4. Oh I see. Well I am glad you have let me know. I have to say Paul, your efforts in all your posts are well recieved by many and it is visible in your dedication. I am sure they are worthwhile but essentially it is your own blog so ‘ go with your heart and the mind will follow’. I try to do the same so I can appreciate the details you make that make the posts entertaining.

  5. rbtheuncritic

    I loved “I am Sam” and was rather affected by it seeing on the big screen. I have not seen it since as I’m a little leery of revisiting the emotional punch of the times. Has there ever been a role where Michelle didn’t define the concept of integrity…. no matter the role?
    Sad to say I’m not thrilled that she agreed to appear in her current movie, as it sounds awful and not worthy of the brilliance that is Michelle Pfeiffer.

    • I haven’t seen Mother, I don’t know if I will. I notice Michelle is in Murder on the Orient Express which released this weekend over here. Might be more to your taste?

  6. Great post 🙂 Personally, I think Against the Ropes is a better movie. As for I Am Sam, the only thing I can recommend about it is the performances. I just had a funny thought, what if Sean Penn played the lawyer in I Am Sam and it was similar to his David Kleinfeld lawyer in Carlito’s Way? 🙂 I love it that you referenced On the Waterfront, Fat City and Raging Bull all in one blog entry 🙂 Fat City was also a Moviedrome entry 🙂 Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    • Thanks John, I did enjoy Against the Ropes more than I am Sam, mainly because Meg Ryan has never looked better. Your casting call is spot on. I am Sam could have been a completely different movie if Penn had played a schyster lawyer. It would also have freed up the role of Sam to be played by Tom Hanks, a la Forrest Gump, alongside Pfeiffer’s legal eagle.
      And thinking of Kleinfeld and Carlito’s Way how about if Al Pacino had joined forces with Meg Ryan to play potential foster parents in I am Sam. Imagine the courtroom clashes between Penn, Pacino, Pfeiffer and Ryan!

  7. Great post, Paul. Your love for these two is just uncanny and I adore it! I have seen Against the Ropes only once and I Am Sam only twice, but I have thought about you the other day when When Harry Met Sally was on TV. 🙂

    • Hi Reut, it’s always a pleasure to hear from you. I am sorry for the lateness of my reply, I’ve been having no end of problems with my computer this week. I know I’m a stuck record, so I’m glad you enjoyed this piece.

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