Monday, March 30, 2009

The Wrestler

I've always been a fan of professional wrestling. A mark for it, if you want to know the truth. Ask me to name the Top 5 most important memories from my childhood, and somewhere in that mix will be a professional wrestling moment.

One of the most enjoyable TV shows from my youth was WOAY TV's Saturday Night Wrestling. Hosted by Shirley Love (now a state legislator, but then a TV news anchor and personality), the show mixed local flavor with well-known wrestlers to produce a great weekly event. At half-time, Love talked live, one-on-one, with fans; it was always exciting to see if I knew anyone in the audience.

It wasn't the in-ring action I loved, but the kayfabe aspect of the biz. The mythology surrounding the wrestlers, and the story they told in their work. It was the interviews and the carny-like travel that interested me more than headlocks and armbars. One night I rushed to ring-side to retrieve the foreign object discarded by a heel. The wrestler used it to gouge the eyes of the babyface, then threw the weapon out of the ring so the referee couldn't see it. I ran to get it like it was the holy grail.

It was a piece of Styrofoam. I wanted to say: I know it's fake, but at least try to make me think it's real. After all, a carnival is only as good as the barker makes you think it is.

That's sort of how I felt about The Wrestler.

Mickey Rourke is very good as Randy "The Ram," a former big-time money maker who can't let go of his glory days, even if the cost to him is high. The movie gets the wrestling right, with its locker room camaraderie and the protection of kayfabe. There's a great soundtrack with kick-ass 80s hair bands, and a supporting cast of real life wrestlers with interesting gimmicks.

And have I mentioned the often naked Marisa Tomei?

I wanna cry for The Ram, but I can't. He's a selfish prick who cares more about evening out his spray-on tan than he does hanging out with his daughter. He's willing to bump hard and work stiff for the show, but he can't handle the pressure of a typical workday.

But something is missing from this flick. It's just a little something, and it's a something that's hard to articulate. There's just no getting to know the real Randy "The Ram," because he's become too much a stereotype. A character, and a caricature.

The Wrestler looks good, and it's exciting to watch. But when it's over, somehow, it feels a bit disappointing.

Like a shiv made out of Styrofoam.

12 comments:

Hoyt said...

But Marisa Tomei....

The Film Geek said...

No Styrofoam there! :)

Chris James said...

A great DVD extra would be a fake shoot-style interview where he talks shit on Iron Sheik, Vince McMahon, and Hulk Hogan and tells stories about the time that he an Greg Valentine ran a Chinese finger trap on a stripper in Plano.

The Film Geek said...

I'd buy the DVD for that. That and the Marisa Tomei scenes.

primalscreamx said...

I didn't get The Ram is totally selfish, but inept and awkward. He only really seemed fully formed on wrestling nights and just a broken down old man every other time. He seems to almost shrink.
In the end, I thought that was the choice he finally made. He decided to go ahead and be complete (perhaps not for very long and quite possibly intentionally) versus getting by as a flawed person.

The Film Geek said...

I agree he was his genuine self in the ring. And I understand your point about the choice he made in that final moment of the film. I saw that as his inability to move out of the limelight, even for his own health and well being. The adulation was too important to him; he needed the cheers of a few hundred people more than he needed anything else in the world.

Kennie said...

I enjoyed your thoughts on "The Wrestler" and wrestling in general, but I wanted to point out that the great Shirley Love is a former senator from Fayette County. He retired from his seat and did not run for re-election in 2008. That being said, he was awesome on the WOAY-TV wrestling show. Keep up the great work on the blog. It's always fun to stop by.

The Film Geek said...

Good call, Kennie. Seems I know more about wrestling than I do about current politics.

By the way, do you also recall Arnell Church from WOAY? He always ended his newscast with the phrase: "Have a happy..." as in whatever you will be doing, be happy at it. I loved it.

Read Me said...

When I worked as a reporter for a small newspaper, I was inspired by the death of a wrestler while he was in the ring, and so I made a political cartoon with two wrestlers in the ring with an audience. It showed where the guy jumped off something from the ceiling and landed on his head, and he's bent over in the ring with his head twisted, and there was a gravestone in the ring that says "RIP." One guy in the audience says to another, "I guess professional wrestling IS real." I couldn't convince the editor to print it. I don't know why. I still think it's good. I spent a lot of time on the drawing. It really wasn't bad. I wasn't sure if my editor was a wrestling fan and thought it was too much. Maybe he just didn't get it. Just like I don't get professional wrestling.

Read Me said...

My grandmother used to always say "Have a happy." I've never heard anyone else say that.

The Film Geek said...

Read Me: You still have that cartoon? 'Cause, um...I'd love to post it here! :)

Have a happy, Read Me.

Read Me said...

Yes, I still have the cartoon. It would love to be published someday, even if it's not really that good.