Saturday, 27 August 2011

100 days, 100 films; Day 71 - The Wrestler

#30 - The Wrestler

Come on, if you’ve been paying attention to my other entries about random wrestling garbage then you clearly saw this coming. When this came out I actually wasn’t into wrestling much anymore. I’d watched it when I was a kid but had slowly lost interest in it around the age of fourteen. But back in 2009 was when I got back into it and learned all about the business so in a way I knew a little of what to expect going into this. Brought to you by Darren Aronovsky, the genius behind Black Swan, believe it or not they were originally thought up as one complete movie where a wrestler falls in love with a ballerina. I am trying to imagine how that would have turned out and I’m thinking the end result would be somewhere along the lines of the Italian horror film Suspiria. Well back on topic, let’s get ready to rumble.

The titular wrestler is a man called Randy “The Ram” Robinson, though of course that’s not his real name. He was a big wrestling star back in the 80s, just around the time of the pro-wrestling boom though he wasn’t one of the many who ended up in Vince McMahon’s WWF. These days he’s now in his forties/fifties and still wrestling, while working a side job in a supermarket. One night, after a particularly brutal hardcore rules match that involves barbed wire, a broken mirror and a staple gun of all things, he suffers a heart attack. The doctors tell him that at his age he has to start taking it easy. Now, when you get thrown around for a living that is definitely a problem. He is forced to retire from wrestling and he struggles to get his life back together, trying to get something going with a stripper called Cassidy (real name Pam) and trying to patch up his relationship with his estranged daughter Stephanie. 

If you have ever seen Black Swan then you will notice a lot of similarities between these two films in that they both feature a performer who tries very hard to be the best at what they do. In contrast with Nina, Randy is now old and fading fast, trying to hold onto his glory days despite his failing health because he knows nothing else and doesn’t know how to be anything else. We see how he hates being called by his birth name and how embarrassed he gets when he’s recognised working at a deli counter. It does show the hardships of the life of a professional wrestler, such as constant injuries, bad health, low pay and little to no real functioning relationships with family members. The only people we really see Randy interact with are his fellow wrestlers, Cassidy and the kids who live in his trailer park. Of course that’s not saying all wrestlers turn out this way, just like not all ballerinas end up like Nina from Black Swan, but this just shows how one man can go off the deep end and find himself past his prime with no real life left. One scene that’s pretty telling is when he’s playing an old 80s game with a kid and the kid is bored with it, wanting to go and play his new games. This shows how Randy refuses to move on and clings to what he knows, hoping to retain his glory days.

If I had seen this in the cinema, I probably would have stood up and applauded after watching Mickey Rourke’s performance. I don’t care what other films he’s been in because this will always be his best role. When I watch this film I don’t see him as Mickey Rourke, he is Randy and he becomes that character. His performance is so amazing to watch as he goes through all the hardships, trying so hard to make things work and ultimately screwing everything up for himself. He deserved every award he was nominated for and I am pissed he didn’t get the Oscar. But as a certain Cracked article points out, when you’re up against someone doing a gay role then you don’t stand a chance of winning at all. Marisa Tomei was nice to watch though I was surprised she got an Oscar nod. I enjoyed her performance but it didn’t seem to be what the Oscar people would normally look for. I guess her character almost belonged in a different movie, what with being an aging stripper with a kid who isn’t really sure of what to do in life. 
Now the woman I think deserved a Best Supporting Actress nomination is Evan Rachel Wood. I can’t believe she only got one nomination for her role here because she is brilliant in her short amount of screen time. The scenes between her and Randy are among the best acted in the film. She brings so much to the table as a young woman who has always been disappointed by her father. And yes, she was meant to be a lesbian, it was a little obvious. We also have some cameos from various professional wrestlers. I don’t watch the indies that much so there aren’t that many I do know but I did recognise Jay Lethal and R-Truth (this was before all the “Little Jimmy” nonsense of course).

I have to say that I was very impressed with the wrestling scenes. Mickey Rourke was trained for about eight weeks and he held his own there in the ring pretty well. I mean, he does his chain work far better than I do right now as my trainers will tell you. Obviously the matches weren’t as long as they would have been in real life but they were all still very nicely put together. I especially loved the climactic wrestling scene where we got to see the two men calling their spots and all that, sort of showing us what a match is like from the wrestlers’ perspectives. The hardcore rules match is especially graphic to watch, especially for someone who’s now so used to WWE’s PG atmosphere. I mean, you don’t see people getting stuck with staple guns in WWE now do you?
 I said above about the scenes between Randy and Stephanie (interesting choice of names, don’t you think?) and they are truly some of the most tear-jerking moments in the film. The part on the boardwalk where he apologises to her and the bit that comes after it where the two of them dance in the abandoned ballroom will definitely make the manliest of men a little misty-eyed. I also enjoyed the little scene between Randy and Cassidy/Pam in the bar where an old song comes on and he tries to get her to dance with him (no, I do not get misty-eyed at every single dance scene in a film).

So today we saw my two big obsessions – films and wrestling – come together. Even if you’re not a wrestling fan then you probably will find this film worth watching and enjoyable, just like you don’t need to be a ballet watcher to enjoy Black Swan. I can officially say I’m a big fan of Darren Aronovsky and I can’t wait to see where he goes next in the film business. Maybe a film about a filmmaker? If he goes that route I probably will be queuing outside the cinema on opening day. I’m also happy that Mickey Rourke got a lot of recognition for his acting career and although it is a shame that he lost out at the Oscars, he did clean out in the BAFTAs at least. There’s not much else I can say about the film except it’s a great insight into the world of pro-wrestling and a must-watch for any wrestling fan. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter.

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