Thursday, December 25, 2008
The Wrestler - The Story Behind The Guy Who Lives In A Van Down By The River...
I just saw Mickey Rourke's highly anticipated comeback vehicle The Wrestler, and (spoiler alert), he does live in a van and though no river is specified, a close proximity to a river (or rivulet or stream) is inferred since it is set in NJ (Rahway and Linden mostly - exit 136 or exit 137 on the Garden State Parkway depending on who you ask) and since most towns in NJ are near a flowing watercourse of some sort, Mickey Rourke is actually playing a guy who lives down by the river. Thank you, Chris Farley for a lesson in art imitating art.
Rourke's performance is nothing short of immersive. Director/producer Darren Aranofsky drops us into Randy "The Ram" Robinson's life as if he's pushing us out of a low-flying airplane with a barely working chute. Upon landing, we surey the cold landscape of a lesser New Jersey, a county somewhere central that appears as if it hasn't seen a spring in years. Think desolate town roads punctuated with 99 cent stores and hardly lit bars. And while The Ram suffers through the working week, working in the stockroom of a grocery store under the hulimiating thumb of NYC alt-comedy scene's Todd Barry, the Ram's weekends are when he steps into the intoxicating light of fan adulation, though just barely since walking requires his damaged bones and tendons to function as they did in his prime. Forget Candian Destroyers, Graveyard Smashes, and Tiger Drivers, it's a physical feat to see him put one foot in front of the other and make it to his van (an appropriate Dodge Ram).
Marisa Tomei gives voice and face to NJ strippers and does so with a matching accuracy to Rourke's performance. Working in the actual ill-famed Cheeks strip club in Pemberton, NJ (Route 38, east of 206, it was also the sight of several prostitution stings over the years, remember Burlington County?), Tomei plays both single mother and seasoned older stripper and best tries to alternate between the two in her interactions with Randy. Evan Rachel Wood cannot help being shadowed by Tomei and Rourke, but she keeps a strong foothold in Randy's story and without her, we can't see Randy for what he truly is, a man who sacrificed it all for the one thing he was best at, and ultimately for a life of lonely VFW bars and American Legion Hall backrooms.
Rourke's own troubled and enigmatic life provides the vehicle for a man beaten down by his profession and the mistakes of a life long forgotten by most. But when approached by die-hard fans with faces lit up and flushed with ecstatic 1980s memories, Rourke responds with an all-too-creepily genuine reaction of self-validation and pride. Go up to Rourke right now and tell him how much you loved him in Pope of Greenwich Village and you may experience the same reaction.