“I deserve to be alone. I just don’t want you to hate me.”
To hear the review
To hear the review
It’s tough to hate Randy “The Ram” Robinson. Going into The Wrestler, it was tough not to think of Mickey Rourke, the actor. His personal life has been quite similar to that of The Ram, and I really hoped that I would not be constantly thinking about the parallels as I watched the film. Thankfully, I forgot about Rourke almost immediately. He is absolutely sublime as Randy Robinson, a former wrestling superstar who now works weekends at community centres and high school gyms for crowds of maybe one hundred. Rourke disappears into the character, and he IS this broken-down, sad human being who wrestles because he simply doesn’t know how to do anything else.
I have done some of these events, in community centres and minor league hockey arenas. I have been in the ring with Brutus the Barber Beefcake. I have seen him backstage. The life of The Ram in The Wrestler IS that life. To the T. Imagine a life where you’re a wrestler, going from small town to small town, playing to ever-dwindling crowds and becoming more and more forgotten. But at the same time, when you show up, you are idolized. Not even so much by the fifty people in attendance, who may or may not remember you from your glory days (most of them, after all, are ten-year-olds). But rather, idolized by your compatriots, in the backstage area, all of whom want their picture taken with you and they want your autograph and they are thrilled just to be in the same room.
This, maybe more than even the fans, is what keeps Randy going. That’s what keeps him coming back to these dinky little local events, because it’s the only place where, even on a small scale, he is still a celebrity. He is addicted to the adulation he receives from the small-time bush-league wrestlers backstage. And to his credit, The Ram is wonderful with those guys. He compliments one guy on his style, which makes him ecstatic. Like a high school wide receiver who gets a pat on the back from Jerry Rice. He goes for beers with them, he jokes with them, he is entirely friendly. The former-superstar wrestlers I have met at these events are usually not so friendly.
I read somewhere that the premiere of The Wrestler was attended by a large number of these former superstars – Jake The Snake, and Brutus the Barber, and Rowdy Roddy Piper and others. Apparently, some of them broke down and cried right in the theatre. I believe this. I’m not even close to this business at all, but I cried watching this movie. I know it’s true. I know this is how some of these guys hang on to that last shred of recognition and love they have. Of course, most of them don’t. Most of them, like The Ram’s main rival from the 80s, The Ayatollah, go on to run car dealerships or become accountants. But there are broken down celebrities all over the world like The Ram.
Not only is Rourke simply staggering as The Ram, so is Marisa Tomei as his sort-of love interest. Herself a broken-down sort of person, an aging stripper who is trying, in some way, to hang on to her youthful ideal of herself, she is the perfect complement to The Ram’s sad life. A lot of fun has been made of the fact that Tomei won an Oscar for My Cousin Vinny so many years ago, but movies like this one and last year’s Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead are a major reminder that she really is a terrific actress. And although The Wrestler is not, as many have said, Mickey Rourke’s “resurrection” performance (that would have been Sin City), it IS the best of his career.
The relationship between Tomei and Rourke is perfectly drawn, with both of them leaning on each other for support in their own way, and it boils down to a heartbreaking and devastating conclusion. The relationship between The Ram and his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) is more complex, and maybe even better. When he suffers a heart attack after a particularly brutal match, and is told he may never wrestle again, only then does he search for something else in his life that might have meaning, and only then does he seek out the daughter he has abandoned so many times before. Wood is brilliant as well as Stephanie, who is cautious when it comes to her dad and his affection, but in the end she is as desperate as he is, maybe moreso, to make it work.
The Wrestler really ought to be considered one of the best films of the year. I think the Academy made some big mistakes this year (one was the selection of Sean Penn over Rourke as best actor) but none were more egregious than the nominees for Best Picture. I really liked Milk, and Slumdog, and the rest of them, but the exclusion of In Bruges, The Dark Knight, and The Wrestler really stood out for me. This was a breathtaking film that deserves better. It comes out on DVD April 21st from Alliance Films, and it’s one that should be watched, that day, by everyone.
One recommendation I would make is this – rent it, don’t buy it. The only special feature on this DVD is the music video for Bruce Springsteen’s wonderful song “The Wrestler” from the end credits. A magnificent song, a terrific video, and all the more heartbreaking after you’ve seen the film. But I suspect the reason for this is that there will be another, more in-depth special edition, possibly a two-disc edition, that will be released fairly soon. And I suspect that one will be worth waiting for. So wait for a few months before buying The Wrestler. That is, if, after you rent it, you can wait that long to see it again.