Monday, February 09, 2009

Le retour de Mickey Rourke

I finally saw The Wrestler this past weekend. In a word, it is AMAZING. Though I've never been familiar with lead actor Mickey Rourke's career and have never gotten closer to professional wrestling than watching Slim Jim commercials in the early 90s, I am fascinated by this film.

There's absolutely nothing French about The Wrestler - it's a truly American film in every sense: plot (washed-up wrestler woos washed-up stripper); setting (New Jersey, blue-collar capital of cinema and rock & roll alike); soundtrack (mind-blowing 80s hair metal and a Springsteen special). I mention it here* because it's become well-known, especially since the film's release in December 2008, that the French were the ones who never gave up on Mickey Rourke. They've believed in him since his debut in Diner and, like his Wrestler character Randy "The Ram" Robinson's fans, their critics and audiences stuck with him though his own bout with the 90s doldrums, long after American critics gave up on him entirely. "The 90s fuckin' sucked!" Randy and stripper friend Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) emphatically agree in the film. Both actors would probably agree with that statement even off-screen, considering the hard knocks their careers each endured during those years.

Rourke at one time blatantly said that the French stuck behind him all those years because they were more cultured. I can't defend that exact statement, but it does sound like something I'd say myself, so I can't blame him for it, either.

Personally, several things stood out to me in the film:

I was immediately struck by the parallel career trajectories of both Randy and the metal bands that provide the film's soundtrack. Quiet Riot, Ratt, Cinderella and the rest are poster children for glory days that have been usurped by drug overdoses, health problems and infighting.

During one poignant scene, Randy attends a "legend signing" event that draws far from a crowd. After schlepping his Polaroid camera (for photo ops, $8 each), faded VHS tapes and sweatshirts to the event, he stares around the room and sees that the heart attack he's endured is nothing compared to the wheelchairs, colostomy bags and canes of his peers.

I was also impressed at how Rourke and director Darren Aronofsky were able to make the audience care for Randy. He seems like such a nice guy that it is painful to watch him screw up every good thing he tries to establish in his life, and also to realize how much he's screwed up before the film even begins. As Bruce Springsteen sings at the end of the film, Randy truly is a "one-trick pony" who decides that it's too late in life to turn his back on the only ones who care about him - his fans.

The film has had its French premiere but doesn't arrive in theatres there until February 18. When it does, I'll be perusing the reviews to see what Rourke's biggest fans have to say about his most acclaimed performance ever. I'm sure we'll be hoping for a Best Actor Oscar win on both sides of the pond.

*You have no idea how happy it made me to realize that I could include a reflection on The Wrestler on my blog. From the beginning, I've tried to keep this site strictly franco-centric.

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