RTT OFF TOPIC Movies you can’t see in Stockton review: The Wrestler

ed. note: Nothing really happened today, unless you want to read about Bob Barker buying the Lode area an elephant. But the best joke we could come up for that was “One guy was gonna bring it in for $1.5 mil but Barker outbid him with $1.5 mil and one dollar”. So instead enjoy this movie review which really has nothing to do with Stockton, but is interesting anyways.

Wrestling fans are a classically pessimistic group. That’ll happen when you’re widely regarded as the red-headed stepchild of “sports” fans. The general public looks down on us as unintelligent hillbillies, fans of an illegitimate sport. Those in power in pro wrestling generally look down on us as the “marks”, even though nobody over the age of 10 has fallen for the “con” of wrestling since the late 30s. No respect either way. We’re the Rodney Dangerfield of “sports” fans.

So when I first heard about The Wreslter a little over two years ago, back when it was only known as “That Nic Cage wrestling movie” my first thought was “Nic Cage? That movie’s going to blow.”

Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to movie to be good. It’s just that wrestling and movies never mix. The history’s there, No Holds Barred and Ready to Rumble, both are the most noted examples in pro wrestling movie suckdom. And with Nic Cage slated to star in the latest attempt (although it was later revealed they only flirted with Cage for about a week before settling on Mickey Rourke), it seemed that trend would continue. Confident that “The Wrestler” would suck, I promptly forgot I’d even read about it.

Next thing I know it’s 2 years later and, holy shit, The Wrestler got made (again, thankfully, with Rourke instead of Cage). Then my wrestling fan pessimism kicked in. Is the general public ready for a pro wrestling movie? Did Chris Benoit scare everybody off? Oh shit! Chris Benoit! How the fuck is this movie going to get any press when nobody wants to touch wrestling with a 10-foot ladder? Are they going to address the Benoit thing? This isn’t going to be some preachy “dangers of wrestling” movie is it? That’d just be depressing. And what about wrestling fans? They’re a notoriously fickle bunch that would never accept a Hollywood-sanitized depiction of a classically seedy business. Yeah, it’s fun to be me. And people wonder why I drink heavily.

But then something unexpected happened. Something that was so unfathomable I never even considered it. The Wrestler was good. Scratch that, not good, fucking great.

Darren Aronofsky fucking nailed the wrestling industry. The shop talk, the Ram’s chilly relationship with his daughter, the almost cult-like dedication to fanny packs (next time you catch “Hogan Knows Best” rerun keep your eyes on the Hulkster’s waistline. Chances are there’s a fanny pack brother), the tacky clothes, the constant need to be “on”, the absurdity of strolling through the dollar store to find weapons for a hardcore match, using a classroom as a locker room after wrestling an indy match for $20; Aronofsky did what I thought couldn’t be done, he depicted the wrestling industry honestly and unapologetically. It’s not all good, it’s not all bad. It’s just the way it is. I know that doesn’t sound like much but the last pro wrestling movie I saw was Ready to Rumble, in which 30-something wrestling fans David Arquette and Scott Caan still thought wrestling was real. Think that’s stupid? David Arquette then won the World Title, not in the movie, but in real life to help promote the movie. God I loved WCW.

But the wrestling fans were a gimmie. Regardless of whether or not it sucked, wrestling fans would go. The tough sell would be everybody else. No matter what I said, no matter how many awards it won or was nominated for, I couldn’t find anybody willing to make the hour-long trek to the bay area to go see “a wrestling movie”. I tried everything.

“It’s a wrestling movie so if it’s bad it’s going to be hilariously bad. Like Rocky Horror Picture Show bad.” Or, “It’s not playing in Stockton so it has to be good.” Or my personal favorite, “It’s like ‘Rocky’ but with wrestling!”

Of course I said all of this before actually seeing the movie. Now that I’ve seen it, I would describe it in three words and instantly have half my friends on board. Marissa Tomei’s tits. In an Academy Award nominated performance (I’m not kidding), Marissa Tomei shows off her glorious funbags for a good quarter of the movie. You know how in Striptease they take forever to get to Demi Moore’s tits and even then obscure them with a tie or a drunken mustacheless Burt Reynolds? This is like the exact opposite. Sometimes Tomei’s chesticles are out just while she’s standing around at the strip club her character works at (God bless the mesh top). As far as I’m concerned, Aronofsky should recut this movie to feature Tomei and call it The Stripper. Slap that on a billboard with a close up shot of her dirty pillows and you got yourself a multimillion dollar motion picture. Although I’m not looking forward to that movie’s version of the deli slicer scene.

Of course that’s just one of the awesome surprises sprinkled throughout this movie. But instead of focusing on all the little things, let’s tackle the big subjects. Aronofsky took a business full of characters that are often more ridiculous than their on screen personas and showed them for the passionate, everyday people that they are. They chase a job they love with a passion that’s exceeded by few others. The Ram gave up his health, his family, hell he gave up anything resembling a relationship outside of the locker room and his relationship with the fans. He gave it all up for a piece of immortality.

The movie focuses on a chase too many wrestlers get caught up in. The chase for another chance at being immortalized by the fans. Even if that means taking a staple gun the the chest. Any wrestler will tell you that the feeling you get when you pop a crowd is one of the most addicting feelings you can have. That’s the real drug problem in wrestling. People love to talk about the steroid problem. The pain killers, the sleeping pills, and even good old fashioned Mary Jane all pale in comparison to the feeling of thousands of fans hanging out your every move. Some people dream about stepping up to the plate during game 7 of the World Series with 2 outs and a full count in bottom of the 9th. Some people dream about 3rd and forever with less than 2 minutes on the clock, the entire season and the hopes of millions of people pinned on you making the perfect throw.

But those situations happen once a year, if at all. These guys get that feeling almost every day. Sure it’s in a controlled environment, but that’s part of the agreement between fans and wreslters. We’ll suspend reality and cheer as if it were real as long as you put on a good show. Unfortunately the cost of putting on a good show day in and day out can take its toll. And, at least in the case of the Ram, the price of his relationship with the fans is that eventually, it’s the only relationship he has left.

After a particularly brutal hardcore match The Ram suffers a heart attack and is told he has to hang it up. Suddenly Ram has to cope with the life he neglected in favor of chasing that next big rush from the crowd. Only after 20 years of neglect, he realizes wrestling is all he has left. His natural charisma that took him so far in the wrestling world only takes him so far in his attempts to woo Marissa Tomei and repair his relationship with his daughter. It’s both sad and touching at the same time. A few weeks later I realized The Wrestler wasn’t “‘Rocky” with wrestling”, it was (local connection alert!) “Fat City” with wrestling.

I won’t spoil the ending but I don’t think it’s much of a surprise that he eventually goes back for “one more” big match with his most famous opponent the Ayatollah (played by former WCW wrestler Ernest Miller who’s persona when actually wrestling is best described as a kickboxing James Brown). Randy suffers through considerable pain as he labors through the match in one of the cheesier moments of the film. The Ram clutches his chest a couple of times through the match to the point where he kind of resembles a cross between Dog the Bounty Hunter and Red Fox.

The big question people ask me is if Randy Robinson dies at the end of the movie. But really, it doesn’t matter. The message is clear, the fans are the only people who love The Ram anymore, and he’d kill himself to maintain that one lasting relationship. And really if there’s such a thing as a preferred way to die, dying while doing what you love is the way to go. It may seem a little bit crazy, but when I left the theatre I couldn’t help but be a little jealous of Randy “The Ram” Robinson.

But most importantly, for me at least, is that people might not be so quick to judge me for my admittedly weird facination with the world of pro wrestling. Sure it can be cheesy and doesn’t look very real at times, but hopefully this movie can lend even a small amount of legitimacy to an illegitimate sport. Wait, what’s this about Wrestlemania now? God damn it. That’s going to suck.

Update: Awww…aww…awww… Why Lord? Why!?

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~ by El Duke on January 27, 2009.

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