Much has been made about the possible autobiographical overtones in Mickey
Rourke’s devastating performance as a past-his-prime wrestling star
desperately clinging to dreams of returning to the spotlight. These
assumptions may even be valid – in certain ways the story of Randy “The Ram”
Robinson’s downfall from fame to desperate straits may reflect on the
actor’s notorious hard living and eventual fade from the spotlight.
Of course it is not all real life made reel – Rourke, though he has had some
hard times, has never fallen quite so far as Randy the Ram has. Just a few
years ago he had his last “breakout” comeback role in Frank Miller’s Sin
City and he has worked steadily over the years in supporting roles.
Sure, it’s not back to the leading man highs of his Pope of Greenwich
Village/Angel Heart/Diner/Barfly glory days, but he still has a pretty
In fact, putting too much biographical weight into the role may just be
diminishing the wonderful work that the man has done here. Rourke has
always been unquestionably an extraordinary actor – even when he did not
necessarily pick his projects wisely – so the idea that he needed to be
playing himself to capture these depths is probably selling Rourke short.
No matter what Rourke’s personal relationship to Randy is, he does a
stunning job of fleshing out a movie character. Whether he recognizes
himself in the guy is rather extraneous.
So let’s just put it this way – it’s good to see Rourke getting a meaty
leading role like this again – and man does he make the most of it.
Also making a comeback of sorts with The Wrestler is director Darren
Aronofsky whose early promise as a moody chronicler of the modern American
underbelly (Pi, Requiem for a Dream) was seriously tarnished by his
last film – the big-budget surreal vanity project The Fountain.
The return to more lean-and-mean filmmaking (The Wrestler’s budget is
approximately 1/5th of the money spent on The Fountain) has
also rejuvenated Aronofsky’s mojo.
In The Wrestler, Randy the Ram is a former wrestling superstar twenty
years past his prime. Long since swept away from the major bouts, he makes
what he can doing wrestling exhibitions near his North Jersey home. He also
has to bite the bullet and take a day job that he hates at a local grocery
store. Still, he can barely pay the bills and often comes home to his
mobile home to find himself locked out due to past due rent.
He befriends Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), an aging 40-ish stripper who also feels
like she is being ignored for younger, fresher girls. Tomei certainly looks
fit enough that it’s hard to believe that she is being overlooked; however
it is a legitimate concern. Once, years ago, I dated a stripper and at 26,
she was the old lady in her club – so I could only imagine how difficult it
would be to keep up for a woman in her 40s.
He also tries to reach out to his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood),
whom he hasn’t seen in years in an attempt to mend fences.
Eventually a health scare makes his doctor tell him that he can no longer
wrestle, however the Ram can’t see what else he can do with his life without
the dream of returning to the top. This becomes a real quandary for him
when he is approached with his biggest gig in years – a twentieth
anniversary rematch of his most famous fight.
As you can see, The Wrestler is not necessarily the most original
storyline in the world – in fact it touches on most of the touchstones of
sports films. However, what makes it special is what is done with the
storyline – how the uniformly terrific acting and the atmospheric direction
takes rote situations and makes them vital and energetic.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: January 31, 2009.