“The Ultimate Man Film” promises FHM! The Wrestler “will floor you”! Five Stars from Nuts! “Love. Pain. Glory.”
…I find it worrying that anyone could approach The Wrestler with a lad-mag attitude. Yes, there are fights, and explicit violence, and even boobies. If you’re willing to let the context slip far enough, there are even lesbians, and a conversation about Call of Duty.
These are all great, cinematic things (well, maybe not the CoD chats) in the right context. These are the makings of, for example, a brilliant Steven Seagal film. But The Wrestler very specifically goes out of its way to suck any pretense of glamour out of those things. What it does as a film, what defines it, is to show the dark truth of those adolescent male fantasies, having a stripper girlfriend and wearing sweaty latex pants and beating other people up.
To clarify: this is a film with Marisa Tomei’s (emphatically old, but still – despite the lovely girlfriend’s protestations to the contrary – unreservedly fine) breasts in it. But it’s also a film in which you’re forced to watch the time-ravaged male-equivalent body shower with a plastic bag over a heart-bypass scar. It is a surgical removal of any illusion of dignity.
…Which sounds like a right barrel of laughs, doesn’t it? But The Wrestler is delivered with the precise timing of a bitter, middle-aged comedian. It reminds you that life isn’t always dignified, even in the movies, but at times it invites you to laugh at that. And that makes it a bit better, sometimes, and then it encourages you to cry about it.
It’s not a pretty film: it pushes us eyes-first into ugliness every chance it gets. But it never revels in that. It’s as much the deeply-ploughed gouges in Mickey Rourke’s face and the bad bleach job on his hair as it is barbed-wire punches and shaky-cam lapdances. It’s just honest, and that makes it the opposite of the lad-mag fantasy the DVD case seems so desperate to convince us it is. But all those readers who bought into the claims on the cover, who actually picked up the DVD and watched The Wrestler? I can’t imagine any of them going away thinking oh, cool, wrestling and boobies! I also can’t imagine any of them turning it off, or failed to be roused by the sharp, sudden end. So maybe it is the Ultimate Man Film, after all.