This is a movie worthy of the hype. Darren Aronofsky proves to be both genius and chameleonic with his fourth feature. I was one of the few that loved The Fountain, but it seems I’m not alone with my impression of The Wrestler, as it just picked up a bunch of Golden Globes.
Mickey Rourke is fantastic as washed-up pro wrestler Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson, and I can’t remember a performance in recent years that elicited so much sympathy. This film almost constantly had me on the verge of tears. Here’s a man that was only ever good at one thing – wearing tights and beating the crap out of other bulked-up guys in rehearsed violence – and both his body and his fame are giving up on him. He was never so good at the other stuff – his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachael Wood) wants nothing to do with him, his landlord has locked him out of his trailer pending owed rent money, and his boss at the local supermarket can’t spare any extra shifts. He doesn’t really have any friends, excepting ‘Cassidy’ (Marisa Tomei), a stripper at the local bar. You don’t have to think very hard to see how the two have something in common – they’re both performers in highly popular forms of entertainment that paradoxically provoke the most disdain.
When it comes to the wrestling, this film is eye opening. It’s astounding seeing close up what these guys get up to in the ring, and even stranger to see all the blokes in the dressing room afterwards, the best of mates. It really is a bizarre little community, but they share a surprisingly solid bond.
The film is shot in a decidedly low budget manner that aims for realism – the camera’s often handheld, and the lighting very dim – but it’s beautiful all the same. Aronofsky manages to make us comfortable amidst all the spandex, bad hair and 80’s metal. He also deliberately eschews narrative expectations on several occasions, so much so that we begin to almost expect it to do the unexpected. Some of these decisions ring true; others feel as if they exist purely for the sake of contrariness, which makes the film less than perfect.
The Wrestler is a wonderful film, though not one I’d rush to see again. So many moments in this film are heartbreaking, and I left feeling more than a little run down myself. It’d take an awful lot to get me back into that ring.Rating: