Entertainment » Movies

Strongman (MFA)

by Phil Hall
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Sunday Dec 6, 2009
A scene from Strongman.
A scene from Strongman.  

Zachary Levy's documentary, which won the Grand Jury Prize at this year's Slamdance Film Festival, focuses on Stanley Pleskun, a New Jersey strongman. But Pleskun, who bills himself as "Stanless Steel," isn't the World's Strongest Man-style athlete. He is actually what appears to be among the last of a near-extinct breed: the circus strongman who is supposed to dazzle audiences with extraordinary feats of strength.

However, Pleskun's act (if you can call it that) is fairly limited - bending pennies, lifting trucks, and various low energy acts of mayhem that involve breaking and raising unlikely objects. It doesn't help that he looks more like an aging, oversized hippie than Hercules, or that his personality is curiously benign. Very occasionally, Pleskun snags a decent gig, such as an appearance on a British TV talent show. But for the most part, he is stuck performing at birthday parties and in school parking lots. Pleskun supports himself as a scrap metal hauler while hoping for the seemingly elusive big break to materialize.

The film often feels like a real life version of The Wrestler, except that Pleskun's personality is far more pleasant than the character created by Mickey Rourke. Yet his passive manner becomes an Achilles' heel, particularly when his long-suffering wife Barbara sparks a fight that creates a separation.

Ultimately, Strongman is a very depressing film. Pleskun, who has no talent beyond his strength and no clue how to present himself in a manner where he would generate awe rather than amusement, is an oversized train wreck who never fails to disappoint. He's in a dead end life, pursuing a nonexistent dream, and even the failure of his marriage doesn't wake him to reality.

As a slice of reality, it cuts very close to the heart for genuine comfort. But Levy is to be commended for framing this original portrait of a distinctive soul who can lift trucks off the ground but cannot get himself out of a rut.

Strongman will be shown December 9-16, 2009 at the Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, Mass. For more information visit the Museum of Fine Arts website.

Phil Hall is the author of "The Greatest Bad Movies of All Time

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