I don’t like wrestling. Being British, I associate it with overweight old men in skimpy leotards shouting ‘Easy! Easy!’ on a Saturday afternoon. I don’t doubt that the performers are extremely fit and they work extra hard; however, an entertainment where everything is planned in advance isn’t a sport. I just don’t see the appeal – there might be some superficial similarity to comics (overly muscled men in spandex playing ‘good versus evil’ battles) but that doesn’t mean I can find anything to enjoy in it. I can’t even read the posts by the excellent Paul O’Brien when he wrestling events.
Welcome to my review of a film about wrestling.
Here’s the thing: come awards season, I have an overwhelming urge to see the films that are being nominated. It doesn’t matter if their subject matter doesn’t coincide with my areas of interest – I must see them. The Wrestler has been getting very good reviews (Empire gave it five stars), so that must be a good thing. Right? I remember when I first saw the mentions of the film in notices from festivals and I couldn’t believe it existed, let alone that it was getting such good press. And yet I went to see it – I am large; I contain multitudes.
The Wrestler is about Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson (Mickey Rourke), a wrestler who had some glory 20 years ago but who is still wrestling on the weekends, while doing a menial job during the week. He is still getting hurt in the ring but he still loves it – he lives for it. He still works out (helped out with steroids), he still shaves his body, he still visits the self-tanning booth, he still gets his overly long hair dyed at the salon – all for small crowds of people in small venues.
After a hardcore wrestling bout (which looks insane – smashing each other with tables and glass, using staple guns on each other, falling on barbed wire), Randy has a heart attack and is told he can’t wrestle again. This precipitates a re-evaluation of his life, which he decides is empty. He tries to re-engage with his estranged daughter, he asks out the stripper about whom he feels something, and decides to take on more work at the job (working behind the deli counter at the supermarket). However, the new Randy cannot stop the old Randy from re-emerging …
As can bee seen from the description of the story, the film isn’t a novel narrative – the film is about the performances. Rourke is Randy because they are the same – a man who was on top but has suffered through what he loves doing and you can see it. To call it acting is strange because he’s just being himself; nothing wrong with that – many actors just act as themselves for their careers – but I can’t see why it’s such a good performance that it is getting such accolade. I really hope he doesn’t win the Oscar – I’m not saying the Academy always gets the winners right but there is some pedigree throughout its history. And it’s not just because Rourke is so ugly – unattractive people can act and win awards, but his face is just so deformed by the plastic surgery he subjected it to, it doesn’t look real any more. I couldn’t get into the character because I was so disturbed by the plastic immobility – any emotional scenes didn’t affect me at all because they don’t register; he has more motion in his backside (which you also see when he injects drugs in it). I also didn’t feel any empathy for the character – it is supposed to be tragic, but he’s a self-absorbed idiot who doesn’t deserve anything good after the way he continually acts, showing no genuine emotion for anyone but himself.
The film is directed well – Darren Aronofsky follows Randy around with a hand-held camera to give the film the sensation of a documentary, thus heightening the intensity. He films the wrestling scenes with a proximity that makes you part of the show, thus allowing you to feel the wrestlers pain. Marisa Tomei, as the stripper, is excellent; she shows the raw depression of being an older woman who has to cope with the younger women who her clients prefer. Her character parallels Randy’s character but she has self-awareness and feels more genuine (and it’s not because she’s more attractive with no clothes on). However, she doesn’t save the film for me – this movie has been described as a male weepie but I never once felt like crying; the closest emotion was laughter, when a man with a fake limb offered it to Randy to smash over his opponent.