July 13, 2009

Justify My Netflix: The Wrestler

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

The Wrestler

Today's movie: The Wrestler, 2008 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because it's the latest by the fascinating if not spotty filmmaker Darren Aronofsky, the supposedly gritty character drama that dominated the discussion during last year's awards season, garnering an Oscar nomination for the long dormant Mickey Rourke and inspiring talk of a major comeback (which he then kind of squandered soon after the film came out...but that's a whole other story for a whole other day). And I'm still dedicated to always seeing the latest by Aronofsky, because of the strength of his past successes (see Pi and The Fountain, for example), even while admitting that I've despised other movies of his in the past (see Requiem for a Dream...or better yet, don't).

Still from 'The Wrestler'

The reality: Hmm. Well, it's a competently done film at the very least, there's absolutely no denying that; and despite what you've heard otherwise, this movie still has the same obsessive zeal for visual flair that all of Aronofsky's other projects have had, simply that it's executed this time with much more sophistication and less attention-calling flash, using the pedestrian nature of handheld cameras and a blue-collar environment to artfully mask what are in reality some gorgeously artificial and even sometimes gothically majestic sets. But man, is this movie f-cking manipulative, again just like all of Aronofsky's other projects, which is one of the things I really hate about his work when it's at its most transparent; I mean, Cheese And Rice, by the time Rourke is done during a key scene in this script walking with his estranged daughter through a poetically haunting abandoned boardwalk amusement park he used to take her to when she was a child, and then delivering a husky monologue at the end of a windswept pier about what an unlovable beat-up piece of meat he is, and then Aronofsky cutting to a close-up of a perfect single tear streaking down Rourke's bruised, mushy face, you might as well just overlay the top of the screen with giant blinking red text that says, "GIMME MY OSCAR NOW, YA F-CKIN' SHEEP, GIMME GIMME GIMME." Be prepared for a lot of that kind of crap, along with every other emotionally manipulative stereotype Aronofsky can possibly think of, all in an effort to have you bawling by the end like the mewling little lamb you are. Baaaa! Baaaaaaa!

Plus, was I the only one vaguely but deeply unsettled by how much this turns out to be a high-prestige version of "Let's Gawk At The White-Trash Losers?" Because really, when all is said and done, The Wrestler is not much more than a 20-million-dollar, Oscar-nominated edition of "The Jerry Springer Show," with it being very clear that we're supposed to be basking in the morally superior glow surrounding the details of this redneck has-been's life (including a cringe-inducing monologue asserting that '80s hair-metal represents the pinnacle of the Western arts, the slow realization of just how much effort he expends to maintain such cheesy aspects of his physique as his leathery fake tan and the blonde highlights in his thinning ponytail, the fact that he still habitually plays the 1988 Nintendo videogame featuring him at his prime, and a lot more where this comes from), which is apparently justified emotionally by the pathos we're supposed to feel over this steroid-abuser's ongoing health problems, and the ridiculously over-telegraphed hint that he might or might not die of a heart attack if he goes through with the big reunion match marking the climax of this movie; or to quote from the "Simpsons" episode where Marge paints a portrait of Mr. Burns -- "He's horrible, but he's going to die. So I like it!" Although not a strong enough element to overwhelm the film, I admit that I wasn't expecting so much of this movie's drama to rely on the smug satisfaction we're supposed to get over watching Rourke slowly come to realize just how pathetic his life has become (think long shots of him cynically staring across big empty convention halls full of dozing middle-aged overweight he-men hawking folding tables full of cheap videotapes, all of it cut to a plaintive Bruce Springsteen soundtrack), and I have to confess that the whole thing left a weird, sour taste in my mouth, surprising and disappointing given how much the movie was universally praised when it first came out last winter.

Strangest piece of trivia: That 1988 Nintendo videogame featuring Rourke's character at his pop-culture prime? Yeah, that was an actual working videogame that Aronofsky had especially created just for this production (including hiring an entire team of actual retro programmers and designers), just so that the actors could actually play a real round of it during the ten seconds of screen time the whole thing takes up in the finished film. And you wonder how it is that the budgets of modern movies have gotten to the ridiculous levels they are.

Worth your time? Not really

Filed by Jason Pettus at 1:36 PM, July 13, 2009. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |