Comparisons have been made between this Aronofsky outing and to the recent JCVD when writing a review for this film, noting the parallels between the two. I didn't keep that in mind while watching this film, but afterwards I thought about it for a bit and I would have to agree. JCVD and The Wrestler both tell the story of people who are down on their luck, almost penniless and are experiencing shattered relationships with loved ones. Interestingly enough, they both star actors who, for all intents and purposes, have been out of the spotlight light for years and have always carried some kind of criticism. Redemption time?
Well, yes, The Wrestler is a film about an aging wrestler, Micky Rourke, who needs a second job at supermarket to get by and attempts to sweet talk a stripper (Marisa Tomei) at a local joint. When he learns that his heart has grown weak and is giving out, there then becomes the matter of his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) with whom he'd like to reconnect. From this synopsis, your can probably determine that there isn't much original material to this project. Well, I'd say you're spot on. Regardless, this is a good film. It's a case in which the writing and the acting really carries a film that otherwise would have felt pedestrian. In a pathetic attempt to add absolutely nothing to the discussion already under way about the movie, Rourke is really good. This is a wounded beast of a man who continuously makes the same mistakes that put in him trouble with others. He even admits to them but cannot seem to shake those weaknesses off. I think we've all dealt with specific issues that have plagued us that were probably of our doing and we just had the hardest time dealing with them. Rourke demonstrates a controlled sadness, a sadness for himself and for what he has done to those around him. He's an okay guy but he doesn't seem to know how to handle the big issues and that ultimately became his downfall. The problems he encounters continue to eat away at him and just when it seems like one character (no spoilers, although you can guess who) is likely to give up a little bit of herself for him, he rejects it. For all its shortcomings, he is most comfortable in his current state, regardless of the physical and emotional dangers involved.
Both Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood are fine, although it seems the latter is reduced to yelling and whining. Tomei is sweet as the 'stripper with a heart of gold'. Not terribly original, granted, but she serves the story well enough as a little ray of light that is starting to appear in the wrestler's broken down life. It was peculiar however that several scenes that included her began with 45-50 second sequences with her giving either lap dances to customers or dancing on stage. I think Tomei is a beautiful actress and she certainly can put on some moves, but at one point I wondered why Aronofsky kept going back to these shots. We know what strippers do, we've all seen it before you don't have to beat us over the head with 'oh look how she has to debase herself to earn a living that sweet women.'
With all the characters in place and nicely set up, the story develops in somewhat predictable fashion. For all intents and purposes, there are no surprises here. I would say that Aronofsky filmed the actors well however. He rests the camera on their faces often, especially Rourke's. Closeups on the big screen can be quite unkind to an actor who doesn't give a good performance. But with Rourke's beaten up looks and his thoughtful stairs, it works perfectly. This is his show and he says a lot with his face. For all the mud that's been thrown in his face (or that he may thrown into his own face), there is still a very humane, kind side to him. Of course, keeping the camera on the faces of Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood never hurts either.
Despite some of its short comings, The Wrestler is a strong outing, mostly thanks to Micky Rourke. This is much like with JCVD, which had an okay heist plot, but was elevated by the presence of Jean-Claude Van Damme. A good movie overall.