The Wrestler


Reviewed by: Chris

The Wrestler
"The Wrestler is clever but just plain foul."

How low can you go – and still tart something up enough to interest people with good taste? The French make wonderful delicacies out of animal parts. Most people would grimace in the other direction while depositing such offal in the trash. Turner-Prize hopefuls have entered aesthetically arranged urinals – and convinced us it is art. In the world of film, Trainspotting plumbed the depths of vomit, excrement and drug-taking – yet it was hilarious. The Wrestler, on the other hand, is clever but just plain foul.

It’s clever because it features an outstanding performance by Mickey Rourke more or less playing himself. And because of some clever analogies between vicious wrestling and seedy lap-dancing – I kid you not. But it’s still two hours of crowds lapping up grown men and women flogging their meat like animals. Rourke’s character Randy cuts himself for the spectators, batters himself and opponents over the head with chairs and an artificial leg, and pumps his body with enough drugs to feed the whole of Colombia. Marisa Tomei as the lap-dancer with a heart of – whatever the hearts of trailer-trash single mothers are made out of – struts her stuff in front of abusive audiences. At one point she bends over and I am in serious doubt as to whether any dental floss still covers the space between her lower molars. I needn’t have worried. The camera obligingly repeats the shot a few seconds later.

Copy picture

Randy spam-for-brains has an emotional side. We are supposed to feel touched the way we might if an aunt with Alzheimer’s lovingly made beef stew with dog-meat. So throw in a long-lost daughter who has had the good sense to tell Randy, “fuck off.” Randy cries. He makes half-hearted attempts to win her back. Poor sod. A heart-attack momentarily jingle-jangles his single brain cell into thinking he should get a life. But a scene with him serving at a deli counter is woefully underdeveloped even if it’s the best bit in the movie. Randy is, however, a believable individual. Tomei’s storyline is a little less credible, even with superlative acting. Momentarily trying to transform herself into a Real Person and return the affection of Mr Meat-Paws runs counter to the background already created for her character. Both of them, having lived a life of falsehood, wonder what it would be like to come to terms with who they are.

But don’t expect any happy endings from Mr Requiem For A Dream Aronofsky. This is a director who has 20/20 vision to see art in a lump of poo. He is so totally not going to let you off the hook. Since he has obvious talent, one wishfully wonders how he might broaden his horizons. Say, to something inspiring, entertaining or mildly informative.

I have no objection to portraying violence, degradation, and even graphic sexuality more explicit than a coal-miner’s wank-fantasy. Which is more than you get here. For instance, Hunger, a violent (and even more realistic) film about the Maze Prison, had uplifting themes of human courage. The gynaecological explicitness of Breillat’s films questions our understanding of sex in real terms. Even Emmanuelle could break up a long night of boredom. But The Wrestler satisfies neither one camp nor the other. It doesn’t, for instance, show us the mistakes he made for his slide into the Dumb Hulk. (A biopic of Mickey Rourke’s real life would have been infinitely more interesting.)

Aronofsky has let go of the artistic pretensions that at started so well in Requiem For A Dream. After people found his next movie, The Fountain, too obscure, I think he maybe just gave up. Instead of admitting that artistic freedom involves mistakes and close calls, he has tried to make a mainstream hit. Unfortunately, The Wrestler has none of the greatness that made Rocky so memorable. It has none of the entertainment flair that made even Flashdance so watchable. And if you take your significant other to watch it, you may feel seriously embarrassed in the process.

The Wrestler will have its fans. People who rightly proclaim its realism (storyline excepted), or are so swayed by Rourke’s performance that they find the film more than bearable. And if you can no longer get your video of dog-fights with your under-the-counter porn, maybe this is just the movie for you.

Reviewed on: 20 Jan 2009
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The Wrestler packshot
An ageing wrestler tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter, but can he get the ring out of his soul? Plus read what Aronofsky, Rourke and Tomei said about .
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Read more The Wrestler reviews:

Amber Wilkinson *****
Stephen Carty ****1/2

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Writer: Robert D Siegel

Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Rachel Evan Wood, Vale Anoai, Angelina Aucello, Todd Barry, Olivia Baseman, Gregg Bello, Alyssa Bresnahan, Vernon Campbell, E.J. Carroll, Felice Choi, Rebecca Darke, John D'Leo

Year: 2008

Runtime: 105 minutes

Country: US


New York 2008

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