Strongman—Zachary Levy directed this painfully probing portrait of Stanley “Stanless Steel” Pleskun, a strongman from South Brunswick, New Jersey. Stan performs feats of strength in the old style—lifting pick-up trucks with his legs & bending pennies with his fingers. His abilities are legitimately astounding, but he’s unable to significantly capitalize on them. A soft-spoken, guileless fellow (he kept reminding me of the late actor Maury Chaykin) who works as a junk-hauler by day & who seems to live mostly on a diet of corn-on-the-cob, he simply has no luck breaking out of the small-potatoes category. His family life is no picnic, either.
Somehow nothing about Stan’s persona works, in show-business terms. He’s likable & sympathetic, but intense, eccentric, short-tempered. He giggles happily when he watches The Honeymooners on TV, but he hasn’t a whisper of humor onstage. He has a stubbornly purist streak, & seethes over other strongman acts that he suspects are based on fakery. He plainly adores Barbara, his sad-Madonna beauty of a girlfriend, but he bullies her too, forcing her into the role of his announcer though she has even less panache than he.
From early on in Strongman I found myself feeling very protective of Stan; when he goes to London for an appearance on a British stunt-variety show, I was on the edge of my seat, praying that it wouldn’t be a disaster. As Stan becomes more & more frustrated, the movie becomes, in a sense, an ordeal, but it’s an emotionally valid ordeal—you’re brought so close to this brooding, struggling guy that you feel like you have a stake in his soul.
Levy (who met Stan while shooting a stunt he was performing for an NBC special) never, ever mocks his subject. Even so, the movie has moments of low-key comedy, as when, at the end of a performance for some middle-class suburban kids at a party, Stan offers the following: “I want you kids to go down the right road, and…never be with the bad kids…You don’t got to learn the hard way, there’s no such thing as being cool.”
This may be my favorite piece of role-model advice ever.
The film plays Friday & Saturday only at MadCap Theater in Tempe.
Tony and Janina’s American Wedding—The two title figures, Tony & Janina Wasilewski, are Polish immigrants in Chicago. They met, married, started a successful cleaning business & had a son here in the U.S., after which Janina was deported back to Poland. She had requested political asylum when she first moved here, but her request was denied in the mid ‘90s because Poland was no longer Communist by then. She failed—because of the language barrier, she says—to understand that she was being asked to leave voluntarily.
So she’s shipped off with her five-year-old, & Tony is left in a state of lonely, baffled bereavement—he looks like he’s been hit with a baseball bat. Nonetheless, he throws himself into activism, campaigning doggedly in support of Comprehensive Immigration Reform. As the movie progresses, we see the fierce faith in the American Dream fading from his eyes.
Director Ruth Leitman’s vigil with this shattered family deflates the ugly inanities about the immigration issue—it shows the “Anchor Baby” narrative, for instance, for the vicious lie it is. It’s a sad & angry film, & it’s well worth seeing.
No Festival Required screens the film at 7:15 p.m. Friday at Metro Arts High School. Details here.