‘Wrestler’ pins opponents

David Wiens

“The Wrestler” is an unexpectedly stirring story about a big-name wrestler from the ’80s struggling to make a living 20 years later. I say unexpectedly because it’s a very hard thing to do to make such a niche sport seem so universal, especially one that involves brightly-colored spandex.

What makes “The Wrestler” such a good film isn’t just the acting, or the genuine style it was directed, or the masochistic look at what these wrestlers do to put on a good show, it was the way the story was handled. With a character past his prime and down on his luck it would have been all too easy to trip over the various pitfalls that come with the territory. The clich├ęd characters or unreasonably sadistic antagonists you would expect are pleasantly absent.

“The Wrestler” even manages to fight the temptation of a comeback trail. Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson, Rourke, is not some one-hit wonder who let his career fall apart only to decide he wants it back two decades later because he never stopped. ‘The Ram’ still spends weekends at gymnasiums and arenas putting on shows or signing autographs. It isn’t until a heart attack after a particularly brutal show involving a staple gun, barbed wire, and several shards of broken glass, that he begins to think about other things.

Faced with the inability to perform without risking his life, he is forced to take stock of his life and his options. Realizing how alone he has become, he attempts to foster relationships with a local stripper and his daughter. All the while, he makes a living taking more shifts at a grocery store under a patronizing boss who employs him largely to make homo-erotic jokes about wrestling, and the constant nagging of his fellow wrestlers not to quit.

Overall, “The Wrestler” was a pleasantly surprising movie willing to follow a more natural and realistic storyline instead of the formulaic story arc we’re used to seeing.