Distributed By: Fox Searchlight
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
I’m not the wrestling fan in the family – that would be my brother Jon. But thanks to Jon, I happen to know a lot about the past couple of decades of wrestling. On occasions when I was punished from watching television, my brother would not tattle on me if I watched wrestling with him and so I got to know all about Hulk Hogan, Rick Rude, The Iron Sheik, Andre the Giant, and more. I always wondered how these guys got so big and what they would do after their bodies had decided that it was time to stop wrestling. The Wrestler is a movie that discusses this overlooked aspect of wrestling – what happens when a guy climbs as high as he can in the wrestling arena only to have his body fail him and age ruin his career.
The Wrestler stars Mickey Rourke as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a man past his 1980s wrestling prime who continues to run the amateur and oldies circuit. He still has a huge fan following and performs as best as he can for his fans, despite the complaints of his aging body. He works part time at a local grocery store in an effort to gather enough money just to pay for every day expenses such as rent and food. His closest friend is an exotic dancer named Cassidy (Marissa Tomei) who knows exactly what Ram is going through. A middle-aged mother, Cassidy is beginning to see a decline in her clientele due to her age – the guys in the strip club want to check out the younger babes, leaving her with whatever is left over.
A heart attack after a particularly grueling match forces Randy to reconsider his life. He decides to retire from wrestling and takes on a full time job working the deli counter at the supermarket. He makes advances towards Cassidy, who despite her rule of no fraternizing with clients, begins to respond. He also makes an effort to get closer to his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) who he has barely kept contact with over the years, feeling as though he failed her as a father and as a provider.
Just as Randy believes that his retirement might be a good thing, his world starts to crumble. Cassidy rejects his advances. After watching a wrestling match, and discovering what he has lost by leaving the ring, Randy parties hearty, forgetting a dinner date he has made with his daughter. Stephanie shuns him from her life forever. His job at the deli counter now feels frivolous to him and he quits. Knowing he is in no shape to do so, Randy returns to the only thing he feels he was ever any good at – wrestling. As Randy says – he gets hurt out there (in the real life) more than he does in the ring.
Fans of wrestling may or may not want to watch this film. Those who truly believe that wrestling is a reality and not a show will be disappointed at the revelations this film makes. But other, more solidly grounded wrestling fans will want to watch this movie if only to understand what their favorite wrestlers go through once their careers in the ring are over. This movie isn’t simply about a man who retires from wrestling. This movie is about every person out there who has ever been considered as too old to continue to work their chosen profession. For a lot of these people, these chosen professions have been the only things they have ever known and now, the one thing they loved…the one thing they lived for doing…has been taken away and handed off to a younger generation with less than a quarter of the experience of the older generation. The Wrestler is for any person who has ever been made to feel like a “has been.”
The violence notwithstanding, The Wrestler has a very deep message for these individuals. The message is probably what inspired Mickey Rourke, an actor long since considered past his prime, to take on the role. According to the film critics out there, this was Mickey Rourke’s comeback film. I have never been a fan of the actor, but I can honestly say that he poured enough heart and soul into the character of Randy Robinson to make me care for the man and root for him in the end.
While I don’t believe that The Wrestler was a film deserving of Oscar recognition, I do believe it is a film that every person can relate to. Every man and woman, no matter how old right now, will experience what Randy and Cassidy and even Stephanie go through in the movie at one time or another. What one does with these experiences defines who they are.
The Wrestler was an enjoyable experience so long as you don’t expect a Rocky Balboa ending. This is a movie that reflects your average everyday man, not your incredible dynamo. This is a movie for your Average Joe who knows what rejection feels like and knows what it’s like to live so close to the edge you’re about to fall off. Wrestling fans will enjoy some scenes actually based upon real life events that took place during wrestling matches in the ECW and the WWF. Whether it’s the storyline itself, the story behind the story, or the slamming 80’s music, my experience with The Wrestler will attest to the fact that, whether you are a wrestling fan or not, you will definitely find something to enjoy about this film.