Monday, February 2, 2009

Film Review: THE WRESTLER (2008, Darren Aronofsky)

Stars: 4.5 of 5.
Running Time: 115 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Judah Friedlander, Bruce Springsteen, Mark Margolis, Dylan Summers, Ernest Miller.
Tag-lines: "Love. Pain. Glory."
Best exchange: "Goddamn they don't make em' like they used to." –"Fuckin' 80's man, best shit ever!" "Bet'chr ass man, Guns N' Roses! Rules." –"Crue!" "Yeah!" –"Def Lep!" "Then that Cobain pussy had to come around & ruin it all." –"Like there's something wrong, why not just have a good time?" "I'll tell you somethin', I hate the fuckin' 90's."

Solid, solid, solid movie, and the best wrestling flick since Jules Dassin's NIGHT AND THE CITY. It's like HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN directed by the Dardenne Brothers and starring Mickey Rourke as Dog the Bounty Hunter. Well, not exactly, but you see my point. It's a character study of washed-up Randy 'the Ram' Robinson, and a rumination on outsider performance art (from smashing folding chairs on dudes' heads at elementary schools to stripping in a sleazy Jersey bar). In its simple presentation and love for marginalized characters, it would make for a great recession double feature with FROZEN RIVER. And both films manage to find hilarity (as well as soul-crushing misery) amid the carnage. Take, for example, Randy's pre-wrestling routine: a sleazier version of say, Fosse's in ALL THAT JAZZ. With Randy, it's the tanning salon, steroid injections, hair bleaching, and prepping neon-green spandex. Rourke deserves his myriad accolades, as does Marisa Tomei, who pulls off 'aging Jersey stripper' (though perhaps it's the glittery eyeshadow that pushes her over the edge). The masochistic "Necro Butcher" plays himself in a memorable sequence, too. The only sour note is Evan Rachel Wood, who continues to be incredibly bland, but THE WRESTLER emerges unscathed by her interference.

The wrestling scenes themselves are the centerpiece of the film, and while they advance plot and character, they are also ridiculously visceral, maybe the most intense scenes of their kind I've seen since the no-holds-barred naked shower room brawl in EASTERN PROMISES.

(Side note: Why does everyone keep saying this is Rourke's comeback? They said it about THE RAINMAKER in '97, they said it about ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO in '03, and they said it about SIN CITY in '05, which was #1 at the box office its opening weekend. Now they're saying it about THE WRESTLER in '08, which is classic media manipulation designed to create an underdog narrative and win Oscars. Fortunately, the film deserves them on its own merits.)

-Sean Gill

Addendum, September 2009: I just saw John Huston's FAT CITY, and I gotta say that THE WRESTLER is practically a straight-up remake (and that FAT CITY is the better film of the two). Now, I'm not gonna say that seeing FAT CITY diminishes the impact of THE WRESTLER... but, ya know what, it kinda does. See FAT CITY immediately.

1 comment:

Tempest said...

Does Fat City also have an open ending? My boyfriend first told me about The Wrestler. I have liked Tomei since A Different World and was curious to see this. Especially since my renewed Slater Interest led me to re-watch Untamed Heart. She looked and sounded better than she ever has. She got better with age. Here voice was not squeaky and annoying like in her previous roles, which makes me think the voice she used in her earlier films was put on. Her voice is low and sexy here. I give her credit for doing the nude scenes as she has stayed away from them until her later years. She didn't pull a Natalie Portman, that is play a stripper and not strip! Cassidy and Randy were both getting washed up in their fields and were trying to avoid being has-beens. I do not care for ERW on True Blood, but I thought she was decent here, as much as I hated to admit as I don't like her. She was great when she exploded at him. They left a lot of things open-ended. Who was her mother and how old was his daughter? How likely would it be that she would have the same phone number after so many years.