Sunday, February 15, 2009
A lot has been written about Darren Aronofsky's THE WRESTLER lately. Most of it has focused, rightly so, on Mickey Rourke's Oscar-nominated performance as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a battered-but-not-quite-beaten '80s wrestling star. I finally caught up with the film this week and it's really stuck with me the last few days. Some quick notes:
+ Excellent and evocative use of New Jersey locations. As bleak and depressing as they appear in this winterset drama, they're immediately recognizable to anyone who's spent much time in the state. A handful of scenes were shot on the Asbury Park boardwalk (see photo above) and neighboring streets. Due to redevelopment efforts, the area looks a lot better now than it did when the film was shot, though that's not saying much (there's also a scene inside the gutted structure that was once the Casino's carousel house). You see a lot of Garfield, Elizabeth, Linden and Rahway as well - not exactly the most attractive spots of the Garden State, but perfect for the film. When the Ram gets out of the hospital after his heart attack early in the film, it's Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. Aronofsky's from Brooklyn, but you wouldn't know it. He chose his Jersey locations like a native.
+ An authentic feel to the backstage scenes among the wrestlers, many of whom are played by actual pros. One of the wonderful things movies can do is take you behind the scenes into worlds you wouldn't normally have access to, and THE WRESTLER is one of the best examples of this. The camaraderie among the wrestlers, the respect they show each other as fellow performers, even in the dingiest of venues, feels real.
+ There is not a second in the film when you doubt Rourke's performance. He brings a lot of life experience to the role and it shows. From the pumped-up physique to his battered and distorted face, Rourke has clearly gone the distance for this. Cliches aside, it is the role of lifetime. And if he doesn't take home the Oscar for it, there is no justice in the world.
+ The unnaturally pale Evan Rachel Wood (seen above), as the Ram's estranged daughter Stephanie, doesn't have a lot of screen time, but she goes toe-to-toe in her scenes with Rourke and meets the challenge every time. She shifts from dismissive coldness to second-thought skepticism to grudging affection to vulnerability in a way that never seems forced. And she brings it all home in a display of white-hot female anger that's almost frightening.
+ Which brings us to the other main female role, Marisa Tomei as a stripper and single mom with the stage name of "Cassidy." Complex, charming, troubled, sexy and conflicted as they come, Tomei's Cassidy is possibly the most true-to-life representation of a stripper in a major film ever. She works hard in the role, and she looks great doing it (the strip club scenes, filmed at Cheeques in Linden, are also dead-on accurate). To judge from some of her other recent films, such as FACTOTUM and BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD, Tomei, at 44, has no qualms about getting naked on screen physically as well as emotionally. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
+ And of course, there's the Bruce Springsteen song which plays over the closing credits, and which you can hear in the trailer below.
In its last 30 minutes, THE WRESTLER almost seems like it's going to turn into a hokey sports movie. And then it doesn't. Its slightly ambiguous ending may bother some, but in retrospect it feels like the only way it could have ended. This film - and those characters - linger in your mind long after you've left the theater.