In Bobcat Moretti, A Heavyset Boxer Faces His Demons

Photo: Different Duck Films.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, films likeBobcat Moretti” would not exist.

Bobcat Moretti, the new indie drama from director-writer Rob Margolies, isn’t based on a true story, but its star Tim Realbuto—who co-wrote the script and plays the title character—went through his own real-life weight loss journey via boxing just as does the film’s fictional protagonist. With the help of a team of doctors, trainers, and nutritionists, Realbuto transformed into the title character, a down-his-luck fighter who turns to the ring to turn his life around. The change is stunning, as is the means by which Bobcat Moretti‘s protagonist bravely faces and fights his demons.

A closeup of Bobby, sweating profusely.
A pre-weight loss Tim Realbuto as Bobby in Bobcat Moretti. Photo: Different Duck Films.

The opening few minutes of Bobcat Moretti saddle poor Bobby Moretti (Realbuto) with a host of troubles. His weight is just the first. Diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, he undergoes a CT scan that  reveals several lesions on his brain and induces a mortal panic. The elderly mother (Sally Kirkland) he cares for and lives with, suffering from dementia, has a fall that proves fatal, but not before she makes a damning accusation of Bobby with her final words. Depressed and dependent on marijuana, Bobby moves to LA for a time with his brother (Matt Peters) and pregnant wife (Taryn Manning) before landing at the boxing gym where his father died in a bout. The gym is run by Jo (Vivica A. Fox), a hardnosed taskmaster who gets him to reveal another trauma: his then-wife shot and killed their son, then turned the gun on herself.

Those are not spoilers. Those are the film’s opening maneuvers, the necessary exposition to put Bobby where the film’s narrative needs him to be. Training in the ring becomes a means of facing his many, many demons: his MS, his obesity, the death of his mother, his father, his young son at the hand of his wife, his depression and drug use. Weighing down a sympathetic protagonist with a host of burdens and subjecting him to physical and mental torture is, of course, a hallmark of melodrama. Rocky would not be Rocky if the boxer did not suffer anguish in his personal life and the torture of training and competition. Here, however, the script seems determined to load as much onto its protagonist as is humanly possible. Any one of Bobby’s troubles would suffice for a narrative—and by itself make for a more focused treatment.

At one point later in the film, Fox’s Jo reprimands Bobby: “Enough with the melodrama!” It’s a comment that might apply to the film itself. Fortunately, the opening act busts through these plot points at a quick pace, and soon the major conflicts are underway. And they borrow a bit from Rocky (if Rocky was not just inexperienced but obese, suffering a major medical condition, and traumatized by several deaths in the family, including the murder of his son by his wife). In exchange for some custodial labor, Bobby begins training, with his trainer Jo serving as the Mickey in the relationship. Bobby meets and is a bit charmed by a young black boxer nicknamed Boots (Sheria Irving) and is intimidated by her on-and-off lover/abuser/baby-daddy Tony (Jay Hieron), who will make for the villain of the piece.

Bobby confronts Tony in the gym.
Tim Realbuto and Jay Heiron in Bobcat Moretti. Photo: Different Duck Films.

Once the dynamics between these characters are established, Bobcat Moretti finds itself on solid ground. The actors are all completely convincing, especially Realbuto as a young man determined to find himself. One certainly has to credit the performer for losing 137 pounds in the course of filming: the first half of the film was shot in September, 2020, the second in July of 2021. But more impressive than his physical transformation are Realbuto’s genuine interactions with his supporting cast. At the end of the film, Fox’s Jo reveals herself to be more than a mere leathery-trainer trope, and Irving’s Boots becomes the subject of Bobby’s budding-if-awkward feelings in a subplot that feels surprisingly plausible. Irving in particular is a highlight of the film, and Jay Heiron makes for the fearsome opponent every good boxing movie needs.

There’s talent behind the camera as well. Having served as assistant editor on Mad Max: Fury Road, editor Taylor Brusky keeps the film on a spry, taut pace, whether the scenes take place in the ring our outside it. Nine Inch Nails drummer Ilan Rubin contributes his first film score, to his credit subtly charging key scenes with emotion without ever distracting from them. Dawnmarie DeShaies serves as the film’s MS consultant, and while the script may drift from its focus on the protagonist’s underlying condition, the film’s intentions are nonetheless earnest with its dedication to all those afflicted with the disease: it affects 0.5% of the overall population and is the most common autoimmune disorder among young adults. With no known cure, it can debilitating, even disabling.

In the ring, Bobby—“Bobcat,” Jo names him, in honor of his deceased dad and giving the film its title—takes a bloody beating. But so did Rocky Balboa. The goal is not necessarily to vanquish an opponent but to survive, to learn to face trauma, to not succumb to a diagnosis but merely to fight. The ring is just a metaphor for all the punches life throws at you, all the punishment it dishes out. Bobcat Moretti’s script may dish out more punishment than really necessary, but its earnest message and sincere performances make it—no matter the outcome in the ring—an inspiring success.

Bobcat Moretti is available in select theaters and to rent or purchase digitally on Vudu and other on-demand services.

Written by J Paul Johnson

J Paul Johnson is Publisher of Film Obsessive. A professor emeritus of film studies and an avid cinephile, collector, and curator, his interests range from classical Hollywood melodrama and genre films to world and independent cinemas and documentary.

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  1. Saw it in the theaters, bought it when it was released on Amazon, and just bought the DVD! It’s my favorite movie from last year and Realbuto is riveting in one of the most exciting performances I’ve seen in years! Great review, btw!

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