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Million Dollar Baby

By Shamus
on Saturday Aug 12, 2006
Filed under:


I don’t write about movies much. The subject is quite well covered elsewhere and I tend to watch movies about two years after everyone else. But I need to get Million Dollar Baby out of my system, and the only way to do that is to catalog it’s egregious flaws. If you loved the movie, or have not seen it, then you probably won’t have any use for this…

Many people have said the the movie has a “surprise ending”. It did. I have a knack for dodging spoilers. I managed to see The Sixth Sense without knowing the movie’s secret. (Which was great.) I managed to see The Crying Game without learning what it was about. (Huge mistake. Had I known, I would have skipped it.) Now I managed to see Million Dollar Baby without knowing about what it was really about.

Steven once said of Cowboy Beebop Bebop:

[…] The ending felt like being punched in the gut.

For all I know, that’s what they wanted me to feel. If so, it was their artists’ choice. But as a reviewer, I can’t really recommend the series to anyone else. It isn’t any fun getting punched in the gut.

If Cowboy Bebop is getting punched in the gut, then Million Dollar Baby is a flying roundhouse kick to the bridge of your nose. The last fifth of the movie came out of nowhere. Spoilers follow…

I thought I was watching Rocky, but instead I ended up watching a tragedy that culminated in euthanasia. The movie was heartbreaking, horrible, tragic, sadistic, and (worst of all) manipulative. Let’s look at this girl’s life:

  • Why was her family so horrible, even though she was so kind? This is very Cinderella. Somehow this wonderful, generous, and hard-working woman rose out of this nest of joyless angry welfare cheats and crimials? Hard to believe.
  • Why was she so impossibly poor, much poorer than other women in the same line of work who have children and other expenses? She was single and frugal, but she had to eat the food left behind by her customers? Come on. Servers make very little, but they can still afford to eat! So why did she live off of table scraps?
  • Why was she never loved by a man (or anyone else, it seems) even though she was charming, hardworking, and attractive? She worked as a waitress for crying out loud! Beautiful (or geeze, average women) women who wait tables will have no shortage of men flirting with them. All dang day. And somehow Maggie waited tables for twenty years and never had a man love her? Oh please. I’d believe that her pet unicorn got run over before I believed that sob story. I can believe she was single, but she would have been single by choice, not because no man had ever loved her.

So why was her life so implausibly pathetic? Because her life could be even more tragic that way, and it would be even more painful when she nearly made it to the top and was then crippled by a cheap shot! Looking back, it’s clear the writers made her as empathetic as possible, and then made her edure waves and waves of abuse from the world before killing her off.

Perhaps fearful of leaving the audience with some shred of hope, the writers made sure everyone else was miserable and hopeless as well. Frankie Dunn never reunited or had any reconciliation with his daughter, despite that being a running theme in the movie.

You’d think Maggie would ask about what happened to the other boxer. You know, the woman who took that cheap shot, broke her neck, and stole her life away? In the real world that woman would never step into the ring again. She would be stripped of her title and leave the sport in shame. Yet we never hear about it. Why? Because that other boxer ceased to exist the moment Maggie fell. She wasn’t a real person. She only existed to ruin Maggie’s life.

What about those thousands of cheering, adoring fans? What happened to Maggie’s fans? If Lance Armstrong had been tripped by a rival and broken his neck in the last 100 yards of his last race, his fans wouldn’t have abandoned him. No, he would have gotten more fans. Her hospital room should have been filled with flowers and balloons 24/7. Like the rival boxer, they weren’t real people. They were just a plot device to make her fall more tragic.

The acting was wonderful, which obscured how manipulative the plot really was. The characters were wonderful, which made it even more bitter when the writers used them and then threw them away. The whole thing reminds me of the lil’ brudder character from Strong Bad:

Lil’ brudder was just a picture of a one-legged dog Strong Bad drew to make Homestar cry. That’s what this movie is. Maggie is the little one-legged dog we all love, because she has the heart of a champion and never gives up.

They made a big deal about Maggie rejecting her family’s attempt to get her money, but what happened after she died? They would have gotten it anyway. So in the end the heroine died a tragic death, her mentor lived a life of guilt and longing, the villian got away with murder, and the lesser antagonists got to live out the rest of their evil lives on her money, which is all they cared about anyway.

I don’t object to a tragic ending, but I do object when it is exceedingly unjust, manipulative, and implausible. I haven’t had a movie make me this miserable since Seven. It will take days to get this thing out of my system. It’s going to gnaw away at me, and it’ll keep trying to fix the blasted thing in my head.

Maggie wasn’t euthanized by Dunn. She was murdered. By the writers.

Comments (10)

  1. Heather says:

    Thank you for watching it without me. I didn’t think I would like it. I hate manipulative movies. Bleh.

  2. Wonderduck says:

    It’s “Bebop.” BEBOP. Not “beebop.” BEBOP.

    Who knew a duck could be a spelling nazi?

  3. Pixy Misa says:

    Beebop, he bop a she bop,
    I bop, you bop a they bop…


  4. Wonderduck says:

    I don’t even understand…

  5. Shamus says:

    Then you are lucky. That song was like a bad cold. Once it got into your system it would make you miserable for days.

    Cindy Lauper (unsure of spelling) sometime in the 80’s

  6. […] (if you’re wondering what Boys Don’t Cry’s “flaw” is, I’d suppose that I’d put it down to a mild case of Hilary Swankitis). […]

  7. Rafe_Tekstra says:

    Okay, Shamus, I loved that movie, yet I can see some of your points in perspective. I can accept the focus of the story is on Maggie, and thus the other fighter is never mentioned again, but I agree entirely about her fans – they would have sent flowers, donations, assistance. It would have made sense for her to have a Will done, leaving her assets to someone, or setting up a charity or scholarship – someone like Maggie would have done so. Not entirely out of the realm of possibility that a saint rises out of trailer trash. Rare, but not impossible. I understood her to be single by choice, because of her dedication to training. As for her frugalness(?) frugality (?) whatever the word is, I found it fairly clear from the movie that at teh point she was taking home leftovers, she was investing every cent into her training costs, gym fees and equipment.

    And yeah, the movie is a total roundhouse to the head, Chuck Norris style, but sometimes you just need it.

  8. Tim says:

    I love your writing but I can’t agree with your assessment of the movie. I’d argue that the story was not really about Maggie at all but about Frankie’s relationship with her and how that relationship was informed by his inability to maintain a relationship with his daughter. The poignancy of the film to me is not so much about Maggie’s lost promise as Frankie’s loss and the one he willingly embraces.

    The other thing is that the movie’s story is pretty clearly a Catholic allegory (look at all of the Trinity symbolism). I had the impression that the storyline at the end was a retelling of the story of Abraham, but I’m not enough of a religious scholar to know if that makes sense. In any event, I don’t think the story can be properly criticized without at least addressing how it fits into the religious undertones.

  9. Johnny says:

    I can’t believe I’m posting this seven years too late, but I just finished watching million dollar baby a few minutes ago, and had the same issues… I googled “million dollar baby flaws”, and got this site…
    I couldn’t agree more about all the points, and specifically the last to… did the writer ever follow a sport before? The other boxer could ever have been allowed to continuously act so dirty in the ring- yet still keep getting sanctioned- and if a tragedy like this did occur, this woman would have become a national celebrity… and why am I repeating the exact thing you wrote about? Because I’m so damned annoyed!!! Anyway… bye bye

  10. Lord Nyax says:

    In regards to the whole “punched in the gut” sentiment, I have to bring up what I feel is the worst offender: Sucker Punch. That movie was a blantant attempt to sucker punch the audience right where it hurt (it’s in the freaking name for goodness sake!). I hate that movie with the heat of a thousand toasters. My then girlfriend (now wife) is the kind of person who gets very attached to characters, and really sucked into movies. Sucker Punch just about traumatized her. I felt depressed.

    Movies like that should come with a disclaimer. At least Schindler’s List let’s you know it’s not going to be a happy movie going in.

One Trackback

  1. […] (if you’re wondering what Boys Don’t Cry’s “flaw” is, I’d suppose that I’d put it down to a mild case of Hilary Swankitis). […]

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