Let's Get Ready to Stumble
The Wrestler (2008)
Ever since its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival, Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler” has been generating Oscar buzz – even prior to it having an American distributor or release date in sight. Before naysayers had a chance to jog their memory for other premature award-season contenders to compare it to (think “Inland Empire”), Mr. Aronofsky’s new film built on its momentum at the Toronto International Film Festival. Fox Searchlight emerged as the winner of the ensuing bidding war, and appropriately set Dec. 19 as the opening date.
“The Wrestler” is a decent film, if highly overrated. To be sure, it isn’t the WWF equivalent of boxing-film heavyweights such as “Raging Bull” or even “Million Dollar Baby.” Indeed, Mr. Aronofsky is also no match stylistically for Martin Scorsese, although here he curiously tones down the sensory adrenaline that he injected into “Requiem for a Dream.” The new film stars Mickey Rourke as a washed-up wrestler who must hang up the Spandex after undergoing gastric bypass surgery. He tries a regular nine-to-five at the deli counter of a supermarket, makes amends with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood pinches her brows for yet another role), and hopes to build a new life with a stripper past her prime (Marisa Tomei). All of which amounts to exactly one memorable scene, in which the father finally thaws the daughter’s glacial exterior.
In all fairness, “The Wrestler” isn’t without merit. The most interesting aspect of the film is its depiction of the irreconcilable difference between someone’s public and private personae. This theme is applicable to both Mr. Rourke’s character Randy “The Ram” Robinson and Ms. Tomei’s character Cassidy. The Ram has been such a huge part of Randy’s identity that he has a tough time reintegrating into what we know as normal life. While working at the supermarket deli, he must wear a nametag with his actual birth name (which is Robin). And predictably, he suffers a meltdown when a customer recognizes him. Similarly, Cassidy resists Randy’s romantic advances, insisting that she can’t go out with a customer. Screenwriter Robert D. Siegel – one of the original editors at “The Onion” – frustratingly fails to arrive at some sort of meaningful commentary on this double-life phenomenon. While “The Wrestler” isn’t a complete waste of time, it certainly could have been far more profound a movie.
Opens on Dec. 17 in New York and on Jan. 16, 2009 in Britain.
Directed by Darren Aronofsky; written by Robert D. Siegel; director of photography, Maryse Alberti; edited by Andrew Weisblum; music by Clint Mansell; production designer, Tim Grimes; produced by Mr. Aronofsky and Scott Franklin; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.
WITH: Mickey Rourke (Randy), Marisa Tomei (Cassidy) and Evan Rachel Wood (Stephanie).