Manny (2014)

28 May


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I must confess that I didn’t even know the name Manny Pacquiao before I watched this documentary about him, “Manny.” I knew nothing about him—that he was a boxer, that he was also involved in politics, where he came from, or even that he liked to sing and has even performed a duet with Will Ferrell on “Jimmy Kimmel” once. But after seeing this film, I doubt I’ll forget him.

Co-directed by Leon Gast (who also directed Oscar-winning “When We Were Kings”) and Ryan Moore (a first-time director who first imagined the project), and narrated by Liam Neeson, “Manny” delivers a clear portrait of the Filipino professional boxer who also had other ambitions in mind that he managed to succeed. His story is a familiar one (the rags-to-riches tale) but it’s still inspiring to see how Pacquiao has risen from a time of poverty in an obscure Philippine village to international stardom. We’re told interesting tales, from Pacquiao and other interviewees, about his early life in the Philippines, including how Pacquiao credits his physical strength to working with fisherman as a boy.

Most of the documentary tells about his boxing career. We meet the people who helped train him and supported him, including his uncle Sardo Mejia, his friend Buboy Fernandez, managers, promoters, boxer Freddie Roach, and others, as well as celebrities such as Mark Wahlberg. Arguably most importantly, we also get highlights from his most memorable fights, each of which represent how much his fame heightens through time, from the mid-90s to 2013 at least (as far as I know, he’s still fighting). Now it seems as if everyone who follows boxing knows who Manny Pacquiao is. In this documentary, he’s even mentioned along with Muhammad Ali at one point.

We also get into Manny’s other ambitions, as we see how he gets into entertainment. He acts in cheesy movies with titles such as “Wapak-Man” and “Anak ng Kumander,” plugs products in TV commercials, and, yes, even has a brief singing career, which includes a duet of the song “Imagine” with Will Ferrell on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and a session recording “Sometimes When We Touch” while being coached by Dan Hill at Capitol Records. That’s the funniest sequence in the film, as Hill tries to give Manny voice lessons while treading lightly in possible fear that he will get brutally punched.

Manny is also involved in politics, as he becomes a congressman in the Filipino House of Representatives. But something that is considered later in the film, and it’s something I was waiting to be addressed, is the question of how Manny’s other activities affect his boxing career. Does he truly have his priorities in check? Does he need to quit one thing or another?

This documentary is gorgeously shot and very well-edited. The best sequences are the latest fighting sequences; it was like I could feel the knockouts being given from Pacquiao to Miguel Cotto, Pacquiao to Ricky Hatton, and Juan Manuel Marquez to Pacquiao (in one of only very few losses for him). These punches are very brutal, and the way they’re shot and edited make it seem almost as if we’re there at these boxing matches (that’s how I felt when I saw this film on the big screen at the Little Rock Film Festival).

I have a few complaints about this film, however. One is that the final 15-20 minutes seemed to me like one too many false endings. Another is kind of a personal preference, but I would have liked to see more of Manny’s mother Dionisia, who is only seen briefly as she talks about raising Manny and what he was like as a child. And I wouldn’t have minded an interview with Manny’s kids either (how is he as a father? Would he like them to fight as well? Etc.), though we have some input from Manny’s wife, Jinkee. To be fair, I think it was hard enough to edit this film with all the interview footage, documenting footage, and media coverage; what they have is good enough, I’d say.

“Manny” is a good documentary, showing that arguably the best, most interesting documentaries are the ones that serve as character-studies. It tells the story of Manny Pacquiao effectively and gives us an appealing, fascinating guy that I’m glad I could be introduced to this way. And I’ll just say I’ll never listen to “Sometimes When We Touch” the same way again.

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