I know I start out all doom and gloom here, but I promise I will end up posi. That is my pledge to you.
Because I know that springtime is coming, and your minds would rather turn to cheerful thoughts, I’ll get the bad stuff about The Wrestler out of the way before I go onto extol its virtues.
1. Evan Rachel Wood is not the best actress. I say “not the best” because she’s not terrible, but she’s not utterly convincing either, and I think she may have been badly cast as the estranged daughter of washed-up wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson. Mickey Rourke (“The Ram” himself) and Marisa Tomei (who plays an oft-nude single mom who makes her money stuffing singles into her thong but bristles when you call her a “stripper”) are so perfect in their roles that Wood’s weak link stands out all the more.
2. By the time the climax of the film rolls around, director Darren Aronofsky has achieved something beautiful within an ugly framework and has managed to do this by strictly following the “show don’t tell” rule of storytelling…that is, until a brief snippet of dialogue between Randy and Pam (Tomei) basically lays it all out for us. This isn’t a complicated film. It very clearly shows us in semi-documentary, hyper-realistic style how some people get out and some people stay in. But don’t worry, in case you didn’t pick up on Randy’s bittersweet realization when he finally gets his head above water that it turns out the method of slow drowning he had heretofore been perfecting all of his life is a better fit — in case you missed the upswing becoming a downswing, things reverting to their former roles, all that jazz, you’re in luck, because Randy, about to do X in spite of Y (well, I can’t give EVERYTHING away), goes ahead and tells Pam what we already know. It’s a moment which particularly irks me in films like this, because it means that the filmmaker isn’t giving us enough credit.
I mean, well, who can blame them, maybe. As we’ve covered ad nauseam, films that tell you what they should be showing you instead are slowly but surely taking home the gold. What does this mean about the future of filmmaking? Who cares, let’s talk about the reasons to love The Wrestler.
And there are so many!
Mickey Rourke, I talked about him a little already. The key is to just sit back and accept how messed up his face is. That’s sort of the point, after all. The Ram said good-bye to his glory days back in the late Eighties and has spent the last twenty years just sort of killing time. Not actively trying to get back on top but not able to give up the wrestling game for good, The Ram wanders around time and space, breaking even, sometimes with a little extra to spend on a lapdance from his fave stripper, Cassidy. But woops, he’s kinda old now, so his heart gives out, and suddenly his worldview expands a little to where he’s able to step outside his world, look back upon himself, and decide he needs to make some changes.
So there’s your premise. It’s not too novel, I guess, but that’s where a director comes in. Aronofsky has the camera follow Rourke through his bleak, grey days, largely at his back, so the viewer is literally at his heels, viewing the world as he views it. We follow him into what, to me, is a subculture I barely knew about: awkward white males yelling in a gymnasium as grown men hit each other with chairs and pretend to be really wounded. It’s niche, for sure, but what’s the difference between being good at that and being good at anything else? It’s all about where you fit in, and why bother living life if you have to put your bleached, frayed wrestler hair up into a hairnet and be polite to old ladies at a deli counter?
Cassidy the stripper, who is also the aforementioned Pam, finds herself in an opposite scenario. She’s actively trying to get out, to better her life for herself and her son, and because she can’t quite understand The Ram’s yearning to perform again, they are unable to fully connect — despite a questionable shared love for Cinderella (the hair band, not the Disney princess) (although that really would be questionable, wouldn’t it?). The results are something you need to see, I promise. It’s kind of sad, kind of funny, kind of joyous…everything you need to see right now in these February doldrums. If only because you need something to get behind during the Oscars.