Until the very end, "The Wrestler" nails it.
"The Wrestler" correctly identifies pro wrestling as the addiction it is, including all the peripheral addictions (drugs, sex, fame, the look, the RUSH) that add up to make the business one giant-sized monkey on an acne-scarred back. Pro wrestling will make you sacrifice your health, your family, your self-respect and your normalcy, and you will sacrifice it all with a smile on your face until one day you just can’t smile anymore. The subtle parallel drawn between wrestling and stripping was right on point and long overdue. The false sense of stardom each provides can only be matched by the other. Mickey Rourke does an astounding job capturing all that as Randy the Ram. Exotic dancer Marisa Tomei is his soul mate and terrified of it.
It’s an awesome movie. But at the climax of "The Wrestler," when Randy the Ram climbs to the top turnbuckle to deliver one final(?) Ram Jam, a sense of nobility is attached to the bastard art form that is sports entertainment. Haven’t the past two decades taught us that wrestling has no nobility? The body count alone should have smartened us all up.
Would it be a better ending if Randy had left with Cassidy instead of working with the Ayatollah? I’m not sure. It’s tough to kick the addiction. That was made clear. Yet Randy’s clichéd smart-mark promo followed by his stubborn refusal to "go home" right away when his body/heart starts to give out makes it seem like the sacrifices are worthwhile.
They’re not. They simply are not. Maybe that was made clear enough when behaving like "one of the boys" cost Randy his final chance at reconciliation with his daughter. It would have been even more cliched to have Randy die on camera. Maybe it was a great ending, but I’ve just lost too many friends and heard too many sad stories to appreciate it.
Randy’s scenes with his daughter, played by Evan Rachel Wood, were classic. If you don’t cry during Rourke’s "I deserve to be all alone" soliloquy, you’ve watched one Raw too many. If "The Wrestler" accomplishes one thing above all else, it stresses that real people are phony wrestlers. The raw humanity and vulnerability within the clumsy con are clearly on display.
I knew Randy the Ram would botch it with his daughter. I just KNEW IT. I knew it because I know wrestlers. The business ALWAYS comes first. You can NEVER switch it off.
The role of Randy was made for Mickey Rourke. It’s his life loosely translated into a wrestling story. Rourke would be a great babyface. He gets the viewer WITH HIM. Just like Ric Flair can never stop being the "Nature Boy" – believe me, I know – Robin Ramzinski can never stop being Randy the Ram. Not even if he wanted to, and not even when he should want to.
When Randy says his 20th anniversary match with the Ayatollah could be his ticket back to the top, you can tell he can’t help but believe it even though he knows it isn’t true. Everybody thinks they can get one last run with Vince, but they almost never do.
"The Wrestler" should get an Oscar nomination. Rourke should get an Oscar nomination. I think Tomei’s performance has been slightly overrated. Her acting was OK. Mostly, she’s just hot. She lost points with me when she did a lousy stripper crawl.
Ultimately, "The Wrestler" is about vindication. Problem is, wrestling is a profession that doesn’t offer any. The general public might not understand. I do.