Review by Trylon southpaw Ben Schmidt
It’s late after fight night. The crowds and most of the staff of this VFW (or dilapidated theater or wherever we’re at) have all gone home. Four young boxers sit around a table, mere feet from the ring where hours before they each took a beating. Surprising, because each arrived that evening bursting with pride, sure they’d come here to win.
Such is the fat of Fat City, flesh that’s gotta burn so the rest of the system can function. But that being said, if young, athletic, fresh-faced Ernie (Jeff Bridges) is the fat, then what to make of broken, raw, rough-around-the-edges Tully (Stacey Keach)?
Gristle perhaps. Because by its very definition, all gristle was once cartilage, a healthy, productive material found on the surface of joints. A thing that helped other, more important things move. But by the time we’ve caught up to it, something significant enough has happened to warrant a change in label. What once was cartilage is now nothing more than gray, indigestible tissue that gets forked over to the side of the plate.
John Huston’s Fat City opens on Tully, forked by way of an umpteenth hangover to the side life’s plate. And if there’s one thing this film does both right and wrong, it allows us to chew on the gristle for a while.
Tully rouses himself in no particular hurry. Finds his way downstairs to the street to dance a little jig. Then retreats back inside. But there’s a method to this madness, as the long-take (one of many in this film) allows us to gnaw on this particular piece of gristle, surprisingly charming in its own right.
Soon we’re at the YMCA, where Tully runs into young Ernie, who’s throwing punches against a heavy bag. Tully just happens to have a couple sets of boxing gloves with him, and is able to cajole Ernie into some light sparring.
The kid isn’t bad? Maybe? We’ll never know, because Tully quickly claims a pulled muscle and sends Ernie towards the guys who used to train him. Good guys. The guys who will soon sit around Ernie and the other suckers (or up and comers?) feeding them more of what they need or want to hear.
It’s tough to know what to make of most of Fat City. The deeper we’re drawn into Tully’s story and all its messy edges, the harder he is to follow.
But perhaps that’s the point. By the time Tully and Ernie cross paths for the first time in a long time, and perhaps for the last time, late into the film, it’s surprising the two agree to share some time over a cup of coffee. But here all along, we’ve been wondering what to make of fat and gristle. And at the end of this story, they surprise us, by openly questioning what’s to be made of them. –Ben Schmidt
FAT CITY screens Friday and Saturday, August 7 and 8 at 7:00 and 9:00, and Sunday, August 9 at 5:00 and 7:00 at the Trylon. Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.