Wednesday, March 11, 2009

AtoB Back and Forth Review: The Wrestler, Part I

I'm teaming up with longtime friend, Kozy of April 31st to review films. We're calling the segment "A to B" because I'm Andrew and he's Brad. And he lives in Amsterdam, and I live in Buenos Aires. We generally won't get the new releases when the States do, but hopefully we can either help you reminisce or when head out to the video store. Our second review - The Wrestler.


Hiya Brad,
We found ourselves pretty much in agreement over Slumdog Millionaire, but I am definitely curious to see if we align as closely for Darren Aronofsky's latest output. The Wrestler stars Mickey Rourke in a comeback performance as an aging professional wrestler who finds himself grappling against time and his personal history as much as anything else.

I have approached this one a few different ways, trying to stay coy and keep my opinion a bit close to the vest, but I'm going to just come right out and say it. I thought this was an amazing movie. I could've taken a light approach and simply say that the wrestling scenes appear scarily real (Rourke even intentionally cut his forehead with a razor blade in one of them), as does the life of Randy "The Ram" Robinson. But there are both deeper meanings and artistry to be found throughout this picture.

Right from the beginning, Aronofsky gets us on The Ram's side. The film is shot from behind him for the first ten minutes, not even showing his face. Fans call him a "nice guy." This puts us figuratively in his corner. During his first match I found myself rooting for him like I did for Kerry Von Erich when I was eight years old. So for about an hour or so, I was back into wrestling. We soon get all the relevant hot-button issues like hair dye, tanning beds and steroids. Rourke is phenomenal, and doesn't even look like himself. Or rather, I don't really know what Mickey Rourke looks like anymore, but he sure doesn't look like Mickey Rourke.
You think he really took the 'roids? Must've, right?

That's the initial setup, but the film is only getting started. After we get to know The Ram, the story inserts Marisa Tomei as an aging stripper. As Aronofsky prepares to take us to more cerebral levels, he begins with Tomei, the chair beaten over the head that starts to drive the point home. The human existence is a fragile thing. We all have a shelf-life. A nude dancer can't go on past her prime, even one in as phenomenal shape as Tomei. The parallels between the two characters are obvious, and the really sad thing is, they know it. Their conversation about 80s Rock N Roll, lamenting how things changed in the 90s seems a bit obvious, but I couldn't help thinking, "Man they're wrong. 90s music was the best! It's this 2000s stuff that has turned it all to crap." In ten years, will I be facing down "over the hill?" I'd not thought about it that way before, but now I think I do. Oddly enough, Guns N Roses and Metallica, the two most popular metal bands in history, are also trying for major comebacks this year.

Much has been made of Aronofsky going mainstream with this film, but in reality, he's only one step removed from his previous ones. This is still about the bleak state of human existence. It's not as fantastic as his other efforts, but it is still a quest for meaning in life and the personal foibles we all must overcome to survive that quest.

OK, so I've started off deep and not too fun. What do you think about my profound comments?


Hey Reed-O,
It is funny that you mention GnR's comeback. This week I was at my Bulgarian friend Milena's house for her birthday dinner. She secretly popped in Chinese Democracy as background music and I spent the next 30 minutes scratching my head, wondering if what I was listening to was Guns n Roses. Then unexpectedly she squealed, "Oh this is my favorite track on the new album!" With my suspicion confirmed, I thought back to your First Blush article and just how 90's this album sounded, no longer mainstream, but nostalgic in a way that is probably a decade too early for the return of the 90's as a retro fad. Anyways, enough about Axl. Let's move on to another person that no longer looks like himself, Mickey Rourke.
Rocker who believes he can wrestle.

I don't think you'll be surprised to read that I also loved the film and that I happen to agree with you on your synopsis and main points. From a writing, directing, cinematography, story telling and acting level this movie was superb. Aronofsky returns to his strength in this tragedy, telling the story of good people who are hopelessly flawed. He did this with great success in Pi and Requiem for a Dream and takes it to the next level in The Wrestler.

As far as Aronofsky going mainstream with this picture, I guess I don't really get it? How has he gone mainstream with The Wrestler? This was a low budget movie shot in less than a month that grossed $21 million in the US - and that was with Oscar hype. Only now, with the success of The Wrestler does Aronofsky appear interested in gaining a broader audience, with his next pictures listed as RoboCop and The Fighter.

But speaking of mainstream, perhaps I was the only one thinking this, but couldn't you see the script for The Wrestler working nearly perfectly in place of the Rocky Balboa script? Seriously, all it would take is some minor editing - move the story to Philadelphia, boxer for wrestler, son for daughter and hoo-haa!! I read that the original Rocky Balboa script penned by Sly had Rock dying at the end, but studio execs put the kibosh on it. I honestly think Aronofsky's story would be incredibly perfect - a gritty, realistic end to a tired franchise. My mind races thinking of Rock shooting-up steroids onscreen. It would have been the best Part 6 ever (except arguably Star Wars III) and would have won Sly an Oscar.

Close your eyes. Can you visualize it?
Kathleen Turner - just 'cause Brad was mean to her last time.

Actually, now that my eyes are closed, I am starting to visualize Marisa Tomei. Can you believe she was born December 4, 1964? That makes her 44 years old. And in The Wrestler she is scorching hot. And older ladies are not even my thing, you know that about me.
- Kozy

We'll be back with Part II tomorrow.


Scene-Stealers said...

Great review, guys! I am really surprised by the Wrestler's lack of box office, considering all the hype it got. It just goes to show that the art crowd doesn't want to see serious art about someone as white trash as a wrestler and the mainstream crowd doesn't want to see a picture with no budget and a washed-up star.

Reed said...

Wow. Until Brad mentioned it, I had no idea that the box office was that poor. You'd think Marisa Tomei playing an adult entertainer would be enough to get people in the door (though I guess it didn't work with last year's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead either). As I posted a couple of weeks ago, we're not giving our dough to the right movies these days. Paul Blart Mall Cop is still #5 in the country! That's appalling.

Also, I'm surprised that word of mouth didn't help this movie out more. Everyone I know who saw it really loved it.