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.