>> The Wrestler (9/10)

The WrestlerThe Wrestler is not an underdog story.  It’s not the story of a man with an unattainable dream who works beyond all odds to get within reach of his dream.  If that story is a part of The Wrestler at all, then it happened a good twenty-five years or so before this film starts.  Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) has already achieved his goal; he has already lived the dream.  The Wrestler is about the “now what?” that comes afterward, in a profession where the human body will insure that you aren’t the top star forever.  Pro wrestling is a profession where the fake extends beyond just the in-ring violence, where the distinction between your own personality and the character you play every single night begins to blur so badly that it affects your personal relationships, where your own level of celebrity is a sham, calculated for you by booking agents and your in-ring partners, both with their own set of agendas.  The Wrestler is a story that feels like the very real biography of the dozens, if not hundreds, of men that have seen their lives go from bubble gum cards, action-figures, and  performing on television in front of millions to menial jobs, nagging ailments, and wrestling shows in gymnasiums in front of a handful of people.

This movie just feels lived in, more than any other narrative film released in 2008.  You get that sense of fly-on-the-wall audience participation while you watch this that some documentaries have, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say The Wrestler has a documentary feel.  It’s intimate.  The actors physically inhabit their roles.  I believe Mickey Rourke is Randy the Ram.  I can see it in his watery eyes, the face that looks like it was formed out of clay, the way he breathes and sighs and talks in that gravel-pit voice  of a pro wrestler.  I believe Marisa Tomei is Pam.  I can see it in her desperation, her sad smile that still manages to burn at 100-watts through sheer force of will.

Pam is “Cassidy”, the dancer that Randy takes a shine to at a local strip club, both of them drawn together in part by the artificial personas they’re trapped in, alter egos of their own creation, neither one finding real life particularly easy to deal with.  Randy decides to take a crack at a real retirement, after being treated for heart problems, and he’s urged by Pam to reconnect with his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood).  It’s a noble idea, but the truth is that Randy is a bit of a bastard–it’s the reason he’s broke and alone–and the pop of an always adoring crowd is not easily substituted by the emotional stickiness that comes with real life.

In this way, director Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream) has created another portrait of addiction.  Randy is addicted to love, and “fake” love is much easier to get than real love.  It’s by no means as rewarding, but Randy only knows that when he is performing, he feels love.  When he’s working the deli counter at a supermarket, when he’s pleading with his daughter, or when he’s trying to get Pam to bend her own rules on dating customers, he doesn’t feel it.  We know that the crowd response is fleeting, because we’re on the outside looking in, but to the person standing right in the warm glow of the cheering crowd, the emotions are much too strong to make a difference.

I loved every minute of The Wrestler.  It’s a small, truthful movie, one that will offer non-wrestling fans an extremely personal look into a world they didn’t know was this interesting, and for the wrestling fans, it reflects the tale of every upper-mid card superstar that went from fame to famine.  It’s the year’s best love story, and fully deserving of every bit of praise it has received along the film fest circuit.

9 on a 1 to 10 scale

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