The Wrestler

January 25, 2009 at 7:17 am (Movies and TV)

When I was a bar musician, I met a few long-haired, burned out guys who spent years touring and partying, only to end up in their 50’s, bulging out of their spandex pants, playing Gimme Three Steps in biker bars and pretending it’s just as swell. They’d unplug their amps at 2am and go back to their trailer parks. I never thought much about what their existence was like offstage, after the smoke had cleared and the shouting crowd had gone home.

The only thing I’d heard about The Wrestler was that it’s another case of, extraordinary performance in a mediocre movie. Now that I’ve seen it, I can’t agree. It is a poignant, special movie with one extraordinary performance and at least two damned good ones.

I never got into the WWF in the 80’s, but I’d seen enough of it to remember the Hulk Hogans and Sgt. Slaughters of the day. It didn’t matter to me while watching The Wrestler that I don’t like or follow wrestling, because Mickey Rourke’s Randy the Ram Robinson easily could have been one of the guys I played the Mesa Lounge with in 1991 — doing what he’s always done, because he loves it, and can do nothing else.

There aren’t very many truly good roles for women once they hit 45, which Marisa Tomei will this year. Actresses can play young and lovely for only so long, before there’s this 15 year gap and then they have to start playing somebody’s grandma. Tomei’s presence in the movie, an aging stripper who is berated by onlookers for being too old, could easily be a metaphor for what happens to actresses, which is every bit as sad and unfair.  She may be the stereotypical stripper with the heart of gold, but she works hard for the money…SO hard for it, honey. I will never look as good as her 44-year-old self, twisting around a stripper pole and bringing the sexy despite the fact that doing so demeans her…this role took chutzpah and I applaud her.

There are cringeworthy scenes here which are not for the faint of heart. I have not researched whether or not Mickey Rourke actually let someone go after him with a staple gun, but if he did…whoa…Sean Penn might have to do more than just yell this year if he wants his statue. I still need to see Milk for comparison’s sake. Mickey Rourke used to be a great looking guy, and now he’s nearly disfigured and unable to speak a complete sentence, as he left acting to be a professional kickboxer for so many years. The fact that he allowed himself to simply BE, with no sugar coating, no glossing over…the vulnerability is heartbreaking.

During one scene, Evan Rachel Wood in a sincere performance as the estranged daughter explains that the relationship is broken beyond repair. We come to realize it is Randy who is broken and unable to be fixed. The false, for him, is the only truth he’s capable of.  An addict to the adoration, perhaps the most heartbreaking line in The Wrestler occurs as he strides confidently into the stadium for his rematch amid a cheering crowd, mumbling something just loud enough for us to realize that he really does know the difference between real and fake, but doesn’t care anymore.

Now hearing Bruce Springsteen’s song in its proper context, I don’t understand how it could have been looked over at Oscar time.  I suspect what will happen to The Boss  after the snub is a lot like what happens in The Wrestler. He’ll go on doing what he loves, what he’s good at, consequences be damned, for the rest of his life.

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