THE SPORTS DOCTOR- Ring of tears: Warner can't compete with Rourke
If any Arizona fans cried on Sunday night, chances are they won't admit it. Sports fans don't readily weep about games, even if they want to. No matter how dismal the outcome or how crushing the disappointment, cursing and arguing are always more respectable than crying. Besides, sports fans have better reasons to shed a tear this season: The Wrestler.
Who among us hasn't broken a promise to remain dry-eyed during Rudy? What about Friday Night Lights? Even the most hard-hearted can't watch the last scenes without a box of tissues at the ready. Almost anyone would admit that when a sports movie is done right, there's no better illumination of the human condition, with all its triumphs and tragedies. But a movie about professional wrestling? With Mickey Rourke? Seriously?
You may have heard The Wrestler is an excellent movie. You may have heard Mickey Rourke won the Golden Globe for his portrayal of Randy "The Ram" Robinson, and is on the short list for the Oscar as well. You may have heard it's the comeback performance to trump all others. If you decide to see what all the hype is about, prepare yourself.
The Wrester is neither a movie for the faint of heart nor the faint of stomach. Shot in classic independent film style (Steadicam-free), the opening scenes are so close and jumpy that you'll need to take a Dramamine a good half-hour before heading to the theater. If you make it past your initial seasickness, you've only just begun to fight.
In a word, this movie is devastating. Anyone who has ever watched professional wrestling can't help but recognize how sad and pitiful a spectacle it really is: the costumes, the tricks– it's little more than an old-timey freakshow come to town.
The Wrestler doesn't argue this point or attempt to validate wrestling in any way. If you're one of the thousands who pay $30 a pop to watch a cage match on pay-per-view, The Wrestler will strip the scales from your eyes. If you're among the millions who think professional wrestlers are a joke, you'll be no less enlightened.
Randy "The Ram" Robinson is a wrestler on the wrong side of a 20-year career. His body is broken, his bank account empty, his fame a distant memory. The first ten minutes of the film find Randy locked out of his trailer, stocking groceries for minimum wage and spending his hard-earned money in a seedy strip club. It sounds like a classic tale of a washed up has-been who has nowhere to go but up.
So it could have easily been a feel-good movie, complete with a kind-hearted stripper and a second chance. But it's not.
There's nothing feel-good about a man who has to adjust his hearing aid while stuffing dollar bills into a stripper's garter. There's nothing feel-good about a man who spends his Saturdays trying to sell old VHS tapes at the American Legion. There's nothing feel-good about a man who counts cutting his forehead with a razor blade as a job requirement.
There's absolutely nothing feel-good about The Wrestler, but there is brutal and unrelenting honesty. What makes this such an excellent movie is the pain, the steroids, and the falseness. Everything that makes professional wrestling so unreal is what makes its reality so poignant.
It's true the matches are choreographed, but thank God for it. A scene in which two wrestlers go over their moves before a match is horrifying. The leg is cheap, go for the neck. Your knee hurts? Don't worry; I'll land on your back.
The razor wire and the staples? They don't hurt going in, it's the removal that really gets you.
In many ways The Wrestler is no different than most sports movies– the lost opportunities, good intentions, high hopes, crushing setbacks. Where The Wrestler differs from Rudy or Rocky or even Pride of the Yankees is the lack of peaceful reflection and honorable resignation.
Perhaps more than in any other sports movie, there's nothing but the gritty reality of trying and failing, the truth of doing one's best and still falling far, far short of the dream. And that's where The Wrestler finds its excellence.
When the made-for-TV movie about Kurt Warner's life finally hits the airwaves, I've no doubt it will be a heartwarming story of one man's triumph over adversity. But if Arizona fans want to shed a tear for the little quarterback who could, they'd better not see The Wrestler. They might not have any tears left.