I’m not sure what I expected from The Wrestler, but I knew that Mickey Rourke’s performance was central to the film’s success and acclaim. I knew very little about the premise other than it being the story of a professional wrestler whose heyday was in the ’80s but he was still making some money by continuing to appear as his legendary persona, week after week. Turns out, that is the story. It is a character piece about one man’s struggle to find a place in the world when his glory days have ended but he doesn’t quite know how to let them go. It’s not that he’s an embarrassment; it’s just that he knows nothing else. And he has ruined all relationships with family, including a daughter who grew up without him, so that when the wrestling days are finally at an end, he honestly can’t find anything else to fill his life.
Mickey Rourke is the entire film. He brings heart and soul to the title character of Randy “The Ram”, and he gives a performance that is worthy of every award and all critical praise given to him throughout this past awards season. Rourke is extraordinary. The film is gritty and reality-driven, pulling no punches about a professional wrestler’s life and “craft”, such as it is, and it is a masterful piece of storytelling. Even the supporting characters of Evan Rachel Wood, as Randy’s daughter, and Marisa Tomei, as the object of his affection, are warm and rich in their roles. I never expected to appreciate Tomei considering the one thing I read about her appearance in the film was that she spent most of the movie in a state of undress, and yet, even as a stripper trying to support a child on her own, she is likable and truly draws you into her crisis of age and conscience. There is very little about The Wrestler to be criticized, and that was a treat in itself.
I can’t say that Mickey Rourke’s success story as the comeback kid will draw me to his future projects, but I thoroughly enjoyed this film because of him. If he shows such sensitivity and lack of ego in future roles, then I look forward to his second act. But even if I never see another project of his, The Wrestler was worthy of this moment of glory.