Down and Out in New Jersey, 9 January 2009
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA
A fading wrestling star (Mickey Rourke, perfectly cast) suffers a heart attack and must battle with being down and out in Sh*thole, New Jersey in Darren Aronofsky’s gritty character piece, The Wrestler. Message to Hollywood: there actually are nice places in Jersey…really…I’m not joking…trust me…but that’s another story.
Aronofsky utilizes a self-consciously shaky camera and grainy cinematography to emphasize his depiction of a life literally on the ropes. For much of the film we are walking with the camera behind Rourke seeing everything from his point of view–another stylistic choice that may wear on some viewer’s nerves while seem like a stroke of genius to others.
Admittedly I’ve never understood the appeal of pro wrestling, but I imagined it could be a decent vehicle for a character drama. Aronofsky delivers a mixed bag in this respect. Despite the expertly edited piece detailing the humorously brutal and tragic bout that leads to the aforementioned heart attack and the match that closes the film, the remainder of the wrestling bits are unnecessary and really add nothing to the story. The scenes in a shady gentleman’s club (featuring a fabulously adept Marisa Tomei playing the over-the-hill but still hot stripper friend with a heart of gold) and the clips detailing Rourke’s character’s everyday struggles (including some great bits where he works a deli counter) are slightly more appealing and deliver some genuine moments. However, the scenes where he attempts to reconcile with his estranged daughter (an over-acting Evan Rachel Wood) seem staged and under-developed, which undermines the documentary style feel of the rest of the film. I won’t deny I felt something for these characters, but haven’t we seen this all before?
As finely tailored as Mickey Rourke is to his part, his is essentially a one-note character where we see him in varying stages of failure that lead him to believe the only place he can find acceptance is in the phony but dangerous world inside the ring. As good as Rourke and Tomei are, the script plays their story safe and succumbs to clichés. That being said, The Wrestler is still more engaging than your average Hollywood character study, and it’s worth viewing for the occasionally authentic moment and the fine performances from Rourke and Tomei. But as Bruce Springsteen’s theme song played over a black screen before the credits rolled, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Rourke and his character–and maybe that was the point. They try their hardest, but the film in which they appear isn’t worth the hype.