Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What a comeback!

Poster Art for "The Wrestler."

Estranged from his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and unable to sustain any real relationships, Randy lives for the thrill of the show and the adoration of his fans. However, a heart attack forces him into retirement. As his sense of identity starts to slip away, he begins to evaluate the state of his life -- trying to reconnect with his daughter, and strikes up a blossoming romance with an aging stripper (Marisa Tomei). Yet all this cannot compare to the allure of the ring and passion for his art, which threatens to pull Randy "The Ram" back into his world of wrestling in The Wrestler.

Mickey Rourke in "The Wrestler."

Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler is not a film about sports but, appropriately, one about the shabbier precincts of show business, where performers sell not only an illusion, but to varying degrees their bodies and souls. Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) was a star during the 1980s wrestling boom, but unlike his old sparring partners--his "nemesis," the Ayatollah, now has a car dealership in Arizona--Randy is still at it, a nostalgia act relegated to the margins. Madison Square Garden-sized arenas have been replaced by high-school gyms, pay-per-view purses by a few folded bills passed along apologetically. Though still powerful, his physique is visibly worn. His long, peroxided locks look like a poorly rinsed mop; off-duty, he sports glasses and a hearing aid he touchingly tries to conceal. Randy is not, however, a bitter guy--not when he's locked out of his trailer in Jersey for unpaid rent, not when neighborhood kids wake him from a night spent asleep in his van. He's an avuncular figure to the up-and-coming twentysomethings with whom he wrestles, and they respect him in kind. Some of the film's best scenes convey the backstage tenderness of growth-hormoned giants preparing to pulverize one another for a crowd's amusement, the friendly negotiations between "faces" and "heels" over the crippling good-vs-evil pantomime about to ensue. After a hardcore bout against a pasty sadist, featuring barbed wire, broken glass, staple guns, and other implements of bloody defilement, Randy receives a wakeup call in the form of a beneficent heart attack, a firm signal that it's time for him to do something else with his life. And for a while he does, reconnecting with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood); taking a day job at a grocery-store meat counter; making fitful romantic progress with Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), a local stripper with a soft spot for martyrs of the flesh. (She describes The Passion of the Christ in awe: "They beat the living fuck out of him for two whole hours and he just takes it." Randy agrees: "Tough fucking guy.") But The Wrestler is no simple redemption tale. Randy may be a fundamentally decent guy, but he is, as his daughter points out, a lifelong fuckup, and sometimes such nebulous flaws are the ones least amenable to repair. The real reason to see the film, though, is Rourke, who gives the kind of performance many of us imagined he would have offered with regularity over the past two decades. Instead, he wandered: into Cinemax bait, into boxing, into a body, at once hulking and defeated, that no fan of his early '80s work could ever have foreseen. Most remarkable, though, is the degree to which Rourke, in a role that could have invited outsized characterization, instead offers modesty and understatement. This small performance, in a small film, is by far the biggest of his career. The film's heart and soul are in Rourke's three-dimensional portrayal of Randy not as a big dumb goon but as a real guy trying to find his purpose in the world. Numerous small touches in his performance (his walk, his voice, his mannerisms) bring the character to life in a way that's incredibly moving, and I don't think there's not a single false or contrived moment of "acting" anywhere in the film. Even his attempt to reconnect with his estranged college-age daughter, Stephanie (Wood), whom he abandoned years ago, doesn't feel like the cliché it could have been. Randy's desire for reconciliation stems from his inner goodness. He's sincere, and he means well. He has a good heart, metaphorically if not physically. One of the film's simplest, most memorable scenes has Randy good-naturedly working the deli counter at the grocery store, jesting with customers and generally enjoying himself. You start to think the same thing he's thinking, which is that he really could leave wrestling behind and live happily as a wage-earner. But once you've been a celebrity, the public will always view you that way. If you have the audacity to leave showbiz, you're a failure. We want you in the limelight, or we don't want you at all. Randy "The Ram" Robinson is struggling with that harsh truth, and The Wrestler brings us along for the heartbreaking journey. A Definite 5 on my "Go See" scale.

1 comment:

nstarks70 said...

This movie was fantastic and Micki Rourke definitely has made one of the greatest comebacks ever! If you miss out on this movie, it will be a shame!