The Wrestler Reviews
Tonight I watched Mickey Rourke's highly-touted comeback (although I consider his perfect performance as Marv in Sin City as a more appropriate example of his comeback) in The Wrestler. While his performance is phenomenal, Sean Penn deserved the Oscar. I'm glad I saw both performances and feel good that the best man won.
In any case, The Wrestler itself is an interesting case study in the whole Hollywood scene.
Saturated with near-flawless performances from underrated actors, and filmed in a superb, gritty, honest and raw manner, The Wrestler had the makings of another Raging Bull. Where it lost its way, however, is in the script and, in some way, the directing.
Don't get me wrong. The Wrestler is a good movie. And I would rather watch it a hundred times than endure Benjamin Button again. However, it has some very basic flaws that, amazingly, have gone nearly unnoticed in most reviews I've read. Luckily there are a few out there who saw the same movie I did, but it begs the question of how in the world do seasoned film critics miss the basics? How can someone give this movie 4 stars when it breaks the simplest of film making rules??
For the first hour of this nearly two-hour film is perfect. Shot in a documentary style, with very little scripted dialogue, what the viewer is exposed to is the seedy underbelly of the wrestling world. What a miserable existence is portrayed. Emotionally, the viewer IMMEDIATELY connects with what the people/characters are doing, why they do it, etc. It's sad. It's pathetic. It's depressing as hell.
Then, the main character, Randy "The Ram" Robinson, has a heart attack, which requires a bypass and immediate retirement. Understandably, Randy's miserable existence as a washed up wrestler, compounded by this sudden health problem, which only exacerbates his miserable existence, would lead to introspection and making amends for any wrongdoing in his life.
But here is where the movie loses me.
I've been sucked in. I'm THERE. I am completely following, understanding and sympathizing with Randy. I'm even following why he would want to make amends. I'm even there when he initially approaches a long-lost daughter, who is not mentioned at all until his heart attack. And then suddenly a movie that is all about developing the emotional connection between the audience and the characters through exposure to reality, suddenly turns into a movie with a lot of sappy dialogue that heavily forces the viewer to shift from a reality-based understanding, to a manufactured one. One that is clearly script-driven and over-Hollywood, when much of the dialogue up until now has almost been banter-like and ad-libbed. Very natural to almost unnatural.
Like Benjamin Button, it's these forced mechanics that drive me, as a viewer INSANE.
The movie still has very incredible moments throughout the rest of the film, mostly performance-driven. At no point can I say that Mickey and Marisa are not good in this film. They are amazing. It's just that the script lingers far too close to Leaving Las Vegas and Rocky to feel too good about the power of this story.
Review after review that I've read focus heavily on the performances and the sadness of the story. And those are all very true. The Wrestler is just very clumsily written. And there is nothing that the director does to correct it.
It's clear that the purpose of this movie is not only to show the grittiness of the whole wrestling scene, but also show how desperate a man can get when everything seems to go wrong for him. That is why it puzzled me beyond belief why the director would entice me, emotionally, into feeling a certain way and feeding it to me in a specific way, then decide to tug harder on my heart, but with weak, forced dramatic situations, completely opposite of the first hour.
The pivotal scene for me in the movie is when, after failing to reconcile with his daughter right after his heart attack, he eventually talks her into going to the beach in Jersey with him. Suddenly, a daughter we never heard anything about, and his memories of her as a child that we had never heard anything about, are supposed to mean so much to us as a viewer that we are to get sucked into his and her emotional pain.
Well, I had an hour to develop feelings about him as a wrestler. And I had 5 minutes to care about this father/daughter relationship. I just didn't buy it. Randy's "confession" about how he is a busted up piece of meat is corny, but I'm still with the movie up until this point, though squirming in my seat. The final straw was, as they walk up and down the beach and its abandoned buildings, we are shown a scene where the daughter is walking slightly behind Randy. Then we are forced to see her looking off to the side in deep thought, then speed up to catch up with Randy and hug his arm.
This scene made me sigh aloud.
A movie that had been so real, suddenly turned into a fake Hollywood film.
Luckily the movie saves most of itself by showing Randy disappoint his daughter again, take her harsh words to him as a complete fuck up to heart, then make the decision within himself to just go back to wrestling, despite his delicate heart, because he can't really do anything else and he doesn't care anymore if he lives or dies. He really doesn't have anything else for which to live.
I like The Wrestler. I really did. It's just that the same emotional connection between two hard-luck characters, void of a moral compass, who find each other and are kindreds, was very much done more perfectly in Leaving Las Vegas. Because it WAS handled so perfectly, the structural flaw in The Wrestler was just too blatantly obvious. And the washed up athlete trying to get back on top has just been done, with a lot more perfection, in movies like Raging Bull and Rocky.
The movie was tailor made for Rourke though, and it is a wonderful example of how much talent he has. The best thing about this movie is that we will probably be seeing a lot more of him. I just wish Hollywood and up-and-coming film makers will try a little harder when attempting a film of this emotional caliber.
Introspectiva y reflexiva, pero sobretodo aburrida.
Introspectiva y reflexiva, pero sobretodo aburrida.