Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Mickey the Comeback Kid: The Wrestler is no easy takedown


The television spot that I've most often seen, at least recently, for The Wrestler start with the quote "witness the resurrection of Mickey Rourke".  Usually I take these quotes with a grain of salt, like the one that claimed that Benjamin Button was one of the greatest love stories in decades (I beg to differ), but this one isn't far off.

If you lived through the 80s and don't know who Mickey Rourke is you were either too old to care, too young to notice, or if you were of age, perhaps indulging in the same illicit substances as most of the other pop stars of the decade, sniff sniff.  He was beautiful and talented, and he threw it all away, more willingly than some.  

I don't know that I would call Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler a resurrection, because Rourke was never completely dead to Hollywood, although he was on some serious life support.  He's done bit parts throughout the years, appearing in The Rainmaker, Spun, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, along with what most people presume to be his comeback, Sin City's big baddie Marv.  But with The Wrestler, let's face it, Rourke finds the role that was nearly tailor made for him.

Rourke is Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a former pro-wrestler who's fallen out of favor, and whose body is falling apart.  He's relegated to American Legion Halls and autograph signings for has-beens.  He's washed up and he knows it, and he can't let it go.  Somewhere along the way, what happens in the ring, became the only reality for Randy, his personal life the only thing in more shambles than his broken body.  For most people, Randy would be a warning of how to NOT live your life, but Randy can't seem to help himself.  Leaving the ring would be admitting defeat, a shame The Ram might never recover from.  As The Ram's health problems escalate the truth slowly begins to take full shape about what his life has become. 
The one person he can share things with, a stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) is only available to him during her work hours, provided he has the right amount of cash on him.  Evan Rachel Wood rounds out the cast as Randy's estranged daughter Stephanie.  

The Wrestler is a deceptively simple story, but the beauty of it is that Aronofsky and writer Robert Seigel avoid making the easy decisions.  Every time I thought that the film would take a direction, it veered completely the other way.  For a movie that's about people making a living out of performing for a crowd, acting day and night, it's so truthful that it hurts, literally sometimes.  There are moments of excruciating pain, but the physical pain hardly matters when shown in stark contrast with the emotional.  

While Rourke, Tomei and Wood all shine in their dramatic moments, especially Tomei and Rourke who play beautifully off of one another as two sides of the same coin, it's during the lighthearted moments that Rourke's brilliance comes through.  As Randy works the deli counter at a local grocery store, we slowly see him become the man that he could have been.  He's generous, and funny, kind, and most of all real.  But as most of us know, reality isn't glamourous, and Randy certainly likes for things to be flashy.  

Giving away more would do a disservice to this movie.  Just as in life, you're not always meant to know what's coming around the curve.  Suffice it to say that it's a movie about love, fear, pain, and the gauntlet we'll put ourselves through to get what we want.  When is it enough?  For some people it may never be enough, maybe it's that way for Rourke himself.  Maybe that's why when we hear Randy say things like , "I may not be as pretty as I used to be" we believe him.  We think we know him, we've seen what he's gone through, both as the stubborn Randy Robinson, and as Mickey Rourke, and that connection is certainly what helps The Wrestler stand out against the bigger movie bears this season.  There's something refreshing about having the truth laid out entirely before you in a movie, and there's something even better about it when it involves a behind-the-scenes comeback, for me at least.

Overall:
4 out of 5 piledrivers...I think that's a wrestling move, right?

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