Strongman: Like The Wrestler, Only Real

It’s a good thing that New York director Zachary Levy will attend screenings of his documentary, since he has two interesting stories to tell. The first is of Stanley “Stanless Steel” Pleskun, who bends coins, twists metal bars, and lifts trucks off the ground at children’s birthday parties and other two-bit New Jersey events. The second is how Levy financed the doc via his novelty card deck lampooning the Bush administration (inspired by the “most wanted” playing cards distributed during the early Iraq War). Ten years in the making, Strongman both anticipates and follows The Wrestler: Stanley is no longer young, keeps hoping for his luck to change, and ekes out a living as a scrap-metal dealer. (He inks the design on his costume with a Sharpie.) He’s an affable vegetarian with a decidedly non-steroidal physique. You like him, but it’s fairly obvious he’s never going to reach the big time. For this reason, Levy concentrates on Stanley’s squalid, cringe-inducing family and strained relationship with his girlfriend and her shrewish, disapproving sister. It’s the Crumb school of filmmaking: Get uncomfortably close to the domestic chaos, make the viewer squirm, and marvel that the protagonist ever escaped such dismal circumstances. Only Stanley is no R. Crumb, and there is clearly no escape for him. You admire his dogged persistence—and Levy’s—in a futile endeavor. In a telling moment of self-assessment, Stanley declares, “I can bend bars and break chains, but you can’t bend people.”