(spoiler warning – this review may contain slight spoilers)
If there was to be one word to describe Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson it would be this: addict. He is an intense abuser of alcohol and several different kinds of drugs, both recreational and otherwise, but that is not what I am talking about here. Robin Ramzinski, which is The Ram’s real name in the movie, is mainly addicted to acceptance, and, in whatever form he can find it, love. He gets his fill of that mostly from his primary job, professional wrestling, in which he is beloved by the fans who still after all these years show up in old run down gymnasiums and bingo halls to see “that wrestler from the 80s” as one person calls him after recognizing Randy at his second, and far less glamorous job at a local grocery store behind the deli counter. He also gets plenty of love from his fellow wrestlers throughout the movie, some of whom probably grew up idolizing him and are no doubt thrilled to be able to work with him, regardless of how broken down and past his prime he may be at this point. Despite all of this affection he receives in the make believe world of wrestling, back in the real world when he yet again fails to deliver payment to his Landlord, he finds the locks on his trailer doors changed and is thus forced to spend a long cold night asleep in the back of his van until he can convince his boss, who treats him and his ‘pass time’ with perpetual contempt it seems, to give him some overtime work.
He is better received by children in the movie, and Randy is somewhat of a folk hero to all the small kids in the trailer park who cherish the opportunity to have pretend battle royales and roll around with the former champ whenever possible. They don’t know that he probably enjoys this even more than they do, as is evident when he invites one of them over to play an old wrestling video game on his original Nintendo, which he has probably owned since it came out two decades prior. The child is none too impressed with this ancient gaming system though and while still being polite, exits the scene after one match with The Ram. Not so polite to Randy in this film however, is his own child, the now fully grown Stephanie, who he admittedly abandoned during a rough patch during her upbringing. He hasn’t even thought of seeing her in fact until after he has a heart attack and a bypass as a result of his decade’s long abuse to his body in the ring. She understandably has no interest at first in reconciling a relationship with her father, and the scenes where she lets loose on him verbally in this film are particularly hard to watch, as they were intended to be. The movie’s emotional high (or low) point is in these scenes with Randy and his daughter as he tearfully begs her simply ‘not to hate him’ despite of his many, many failings…. He does manage to make some progress in that relationship for a brief period after a little helpful advice from his only other friend in this movie, a stripper played with grace and warmth by the ever beautiful Marisa Tomei.
In Tomei’s stripper character ‘Cassidy’ Randy finds both a potential partner and someone who in a weird way could possibly understand him better than anyone else he is likely to come into contact with. When brought under a microscope their respective professions do have many things in common as has been pointed out in other reviews of this film, the main parallel being that both industries are extremely unforgiving when it comes to the matter of age, as Randy finds out with his heart attack, and Cassidy finds out when a couple college age patrons reject her offer of a private dance in favor of a younger performer. The two meet later in an engaging scene at a local bar and discuss their favorite topic, the 80s, and how much better everything was back then. Back when Motley Crue and Guns N’ Roses could still put out a hit album and Randy was headlining Madison Square Garden instead of the local Elementary School. In this relationship Randy has the chance to find some happiness outside of wrestling, but when she senses herself getting too close, Cassidy remembers rule number one “never date customers”. Randy eventually understands and accepts her decision, but is considerably despondent at having perhaps his last and best chance at a ‘normal life’ yet again dashed to the rocks.
After a particularly aggravating day at work Randy decides, against doctor’s wishes, that it is time to come out of his post heart bypass imposed retirement for one final match against the most infamous of his old time foes, The Ayatollah, played here by Ernest ‘Somebody call my momma!’ Miller. On the phone when asked about the money he is to receive for this event he informs the booker that he ‘just wants to wrestle’… It’s strange that I’ve always viewed wrestling as a form of escapism, but, always in the vein of me escaping the annoyances and aggravations of everyday life by watching it. I never really fully appreciated the level of escapism that must be felt by the performers who, like in the case of Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson, find perhaps their only moments of true solace while getting their heads bashed in with steel chairs.
This movie is one of the more depressing films you will ever see this side of Leaving Las Vegas, but that in no means makes it a bad movie. Speaking of that film, Nicholas Cage was apparently originally cast in the lead role of this movie. Even though I consider myself a fan of his, I am thankful that he pulled out and allowed Mickey Rourke to have this part as in this film he has produced undoubtedly what will be his career defining role for many years to come. There are so many great little moments here that give you a new perspective on the wrestling business that you hardly ever get to see as an outsider, such as a fan festival where hardly anyone shows up and these former ‘legends’ sit, some asleep, at a table full of books or old photographs, or the many great backstage scenes where the wrestlers are shown putting together the spots and finishes for their matches, and the list goes on and on. The only things that were minor annoyances to me here was the overuse of insider wrestling language. I don’t mean that I disapproved of its usage, but it seemed at times to be a bit overdone. Also, I can do without anymore David Chase fade to black endings for the rest of my life, thank you very much, but seeing as that is really the only qualms I have here, I have no problem giving this movie a hearty endorsement. It is a film every wrestling fan worth his salt should see and I cannot give it a high enough rating.
The Wrestler gets a five out of five: EXCELLENT.