Box Office Boner - The Wrestler

Although it has been many months since my last Box Office Boner post, Schnaars inspired me to resurrect my semi (not at all) regular feature on "non genre" films that catch my eye. My original criteria for making the post was some degree of box office success, but I decided to break tradition this time around for the sake of getting some words in about Darren Aronofsky's "The Wrestler," starring Mickey Rourke. Besides, Rourke won a Golden Globe for his role, so it sort of counts.

The Wrestler

Sometime last fall, I heard whisperings about a wrestling-based movie starring Mickey Rourke. As a wrestling fan, I was immediately interested, but as time passed and I wasn't hearing much, I let it slip from my consciousness. It wasn't until months later that I heard the film was being directed by Darren Aronofsky of "Requiem for a Dream" fame, and instantly became insatiably intrigued. I'm not sure what the average person thinks when they hear "a film about wrestling," besides maybe "No Holds Barred" from the late 80's. I knew better, but I was no less anxious to see if this film held up to my astronomical expectations. After giving it a watch-through last week, I can say that I was very, very pleasantly surprised.

Is Mickey Rourke even acting, or simply just being?

It has been said over and over (and over) again, but I really can't overstate how uncanny Rourke's portrayal of Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a battered ex wrestling superstar, truly is. Everything from the way he walks out of an arena (KOC hall, high school gym, etc.) like a man crippled, to the way he appears completely out of his element working at a local deli is spot on. If you don't believe me, watch this film and then watch the Jake Roberts segments from "Beyond the Mat," and tell me that they aren't one in the same.

I also have to give a great credit to the Robert D. Siegel, who wrote the "Ram" character in striking detail. For example, there's a scene where Rourke's character, who's real name is "Robin," protests wearing a name tag with his given name at the deli for fear of being exposed and emasculated. Such a thing seems ridiculous to the average person, but appears completely legitimate within this world. Emphasizing the absurd degree to which "The Ram" protects his character in and out of the ring is a key factor that ties the whole film together, and gives the tragic ending that much more power.

"Requiem..." this is not.

Aronofsky's obsession with the depressing and destructive is certainly furthered by "The Wrestler," but not in the ways you may think. In this film he abandons the grotesque closeups of "Requiem" for a more psuedo-documentary style, which allows you to take the sadness of the film's imagery at face value. Although you see frequent drug use throughout, you're really forced to take a good look at the bleak reality of it without the aid of stylized quick-cuts.

Even if "The Wrestler" is more subdued from a style standpoint than Aronofsky's other offerings, it certainly isn't a slouch. The wrestling scenes in particular are shot brilliantly and mix up TV production-type shots and closeups that allow you to see the wrestler's talking through their moves as they do them. By seamlessly mixing reality and show, Aronofsky's direction mimics the heart of the movie's beleaguered antihero and his inability to grasp the difference himself.

Bring the tissues.

Despite not being a total hardass to begin with, I can only count the number of films I've cried during on one hand (GOD DAMN YOU "PAY IT FORWARD!"). This one is definitely on the list. Simply talking about the wrestling portion of the film and Rourkes resemblance to the broken down grapplers he's emulating is really doing a serious disservice to the film. Despite the drug use, promiscuous sex, or obvious ignorance of "The Ram," you can't help but feel for him as he fails over and over again. This is a true American story, in both its hopelessness and quixotic charm.

Certainly, Marissa Tomei's impact as Rourke's stripper friend and failed love interest reaches far beyond the frequent breast shots. Seldom are such characters treated with this level of sensitivity, and it only takes a few simple scenes to pull you into her story, as well as permanently bind her narrative to that of "The Ram." In case the push/pull of the romantic angle wasn't enough, you're also given the a glimpse at the heartbreak of his relationship with his abandoned daughter. On paper, the familial and romantic love angles sound like they are milked for maximum effect, but by the time they present themselves, you are so completely entrenched in the narrative you don't have any hope of escaping. It's just that good.

Intended Audience:
Wrestling fans, Film Snobs, the Academy

Extended Audience:
People with a pulse and a high tolerance for heartache

Worth It:
If you can see this in theaters, you absolutely should because it's a indie release that may pass you by if you're not careful. If you can wait, this DVD will be a must own, especially if they include "Making of" featurettes, which have the potential to be absolutely fascinating.

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