|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
Braddock is no ball of fire. He's not motivated by a passion for boxing, like Maggie in last fall's hit, Million Dollar Baby. He doesn't even have the horsy competitiveness of Seabiscuit, subject of Hollywood's last inspirational-underdog-of-the-Depression venture. If Braddock is an underdog, he wears it well: He's doglike in his loyalty, gentleness, and nobility of spirit. When life gives him a kick in the pants, he accepts it uncomplainingly; When it tosses him a bone, he's sincerely grateful.
How grateful is shown by a scene midway through. Things have gotten so tough for Jim and his wife Mae (Renee Zellwegger) that they can no longer keep their three children at home; without money for grocery and heating bills, the kids are getting sick. (In an earlier scene, we had seen Mae stretching a bottle of milk by adding water.) The children are farmed out to live with extended family. Regretfully, Braddock goes down to the relief office and signs up for the dole so he can bring them home. But then he wins a fight, and returns to the same office. He plops down a roll of bills in front of the cashier. Later, when a reporter asks him about this, he shrugs it off. "This is a great country, a country that helps a man when he's in trouble. I thought I should return it."
Cinderella Man is not really a movie about boxing, it's a movie about what it means to be a man. In the character of Jim Braddock, we can read what today's audiences are wistful for: a man who works hard to support his wife and kids, who teaches his kids to be honest, who communicates his delight in his wife with every glance. As Mae says to Jim in a late scene, "You're the Bulldog of Bergen, the Pride of New Jersey, you're everybody's hope, you're your kids' hero, and the champion of my heart." Do they make them like that any more?