Tuesday, February 24, 2009

SGM Review: The Wrestler

(Nate's post reminded me that I hadn't watched "The Wrestler" yet, so I took care of that oversight.)

The Ram: "Doc, I'm a professional wrestler."
Doctor: "That's not a good idea."

"The Wrestler" is pretty much every horror story of a broken-down former wrestling superstar of the 1980s rolled into one. Randy "the Ram" Robinson reached the top of the business in the mid-eighties, headlining sold-out arenas and gracing the cover of every magazine; twenty years later he's living day-to-day in a trailer park and working part-time in a grocery store. We never see exactly where the money went, but it isn't hard to figure out that it probably involved drugs and strippers. Tales of Ricky Morton making a hundred-thousand dollars a year and putting it all up his nose come to mind. "If I'm gonna buy an eight-ball of coke, I'm gonna snort the motherfucker." Fortunately "the Ram" doesn't find himself wanting to be assaulted by Kevin Nash for the basis of a lawsuit and free money like Ricky Morton did. Nor does he wolf down a pizza like he hasn't eaten in days. (If you haven't seen the Rock 'N' Roll Express shoot interview, find it.)

For hardcore wrestling fans, this isn't a new story and it isn't a shocking or even surprising look behind the curtain. For anyone else, this is probably mortifying. It's one thing to know that there are a lot of people who found fame and fortune in sports or entertainment at one time only to blow it all and land in the gutter. Countless movie stars, musicians, athletes burned brightly and flamed out hard. But only professional wrestlers find themselves doing what they once did for millions of people in stadiums doing the same thing in front of tens of people in high school gyms twenty years later. Just imagine Jose Canseco busing his ass in a Class-A Minor League for $50 bucks a night in 2008. Fortunately for guys like Canseco, our culture gives such reverence to baseball that he can write a borderline-slanderous tell-all about the seedy side of baseball and be touched with enough credibility to make it work. Professional wrestling is the retarded cousing of both sports and entertainment. You fuck up in this business and no one is going to help you up.

So for Randy "the Ram" it's an appalling, broke-ass life in a trailer, humping from show to show in a raggedy old van that he sleeps in when he gets locked out of his trailer for being late on the rent. It's a lonely life, too, with no real friends except for a stripper at the dirty, dirty strip club he frequents. And there's an estranged daughter who Robinson tries to patch things up with after his heart attack. Getting back in the ring could kill "the Ram," but in the end, the only place Randy finds solace and comfort is in the squared-circle. The fans still love him and the boys still revere him. Outside, in the real world, is only pain and hurt and being a failure.

This is not a happy, upbeat movie and there is no fairy tale ending. Just a flame out. But "The Wrestler" is a damn good movie, held back only by the cliched feeling of some of the human elements of the story. The strained relationship with the daughter, the stripper with a young son constantly on the verge of quitting stripping and making something better of her life, and the requisite steroid use and abuse.

The nuts and bolts of the movie are what make it well worth watching. The movie is gritty and grimy and almost a period piece with the 80s hair metal and dilapidated Northern New Jersey setting. There's no pretense of wrestling being anything other than what it is, no wink and nod. Scenes backstage are of guys working out what they're going to do in their matches. The wrestling scenes are really well-done and Mickey Rourke probably should have won the Oscar just for being able to pull off the spots. The scene with Necro Butcher explaining the use of a staple gun to Randy, who is about to work his first hardcore match, is hilarious for some reason and the match itself is vicious. The post-match scenes of the Ram having staples and glass removed from his skin and barbed-wire inflicted gashes glued shut is like something out of "Beyond the Mat". In fact, this movie could well be a documentary of every miserable, washed-up wrestler who held on just a little too long, right down to the sad scene of an autograph signing where a few fans show up and the old legends who appear at the show spend most of their time wondering where it all went.

And of course Marisa Tomei's titties. But the trade-off for her tits is Mickey Rourke's lumpy old man-cheeks. Just a friendly warning.

Rating: 3 count, natch.


Nate said...

Hell yeah, I'm definitely sold on this film. I hadn't read too much in the way of reviews, because here lately "review" usually means "synopsis of film scene by scene," and I didn't want the film's nuances to be ruined.

But because of that, I wondered how much of the "wink and nod" stuff might be in there, but it sounds like Aronofsky knew how to present that just right: No "look, wrestling is a FIXED sport~! Look, these guys are WORKING OUT THE ENDING OF THE MATCH~! It'z a shoot~!!1" That aspect instead gets presented in a very straightforward, matter-of-fact way.

Yeah, I'm getting this on DVD the day it comes out. Thanks, man.

Rev. Joshua said...

There's no "OMG LOOK BEHIND THE CURTAIN" aspect of how the business works. It just treats it like everyone should know this is how it is, like they took a camera backstage in a documentary. It's not like the 70's flick "The Wrestler" that Verne Gagne was involved in where wrestling was treated as a totally real competition which winds up being unintentionally hilarious.

This is the best representation of professional wrestling from an outsider's perspective in terms of not being condescending or making any sort of moral judgment about the business or the fans while at the same time not whitewashing or glorifying it or doing the whole wink and nod thing. It's weird to know that the writer, Robert Siegel, is a humorist who wrote and edited the Onion for years, but there is no hint of comedy in this aside from a couple of funny moments that exist naturally in the story.