The first wave of stories about Mickey Rourke in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, which closes the New York film Festival in two weeks, mostly ask: “What in the hell happened to Mickey’s face?” But once everyone sees the movie — which is like The Champ if Jon Voight listened to Mötley Crüe, had his own action figure, and occasionally let another man in tights shoot him in the chest with a staple gun (it is to the movie’s endless credit that this scene is actually moving) — that’ll change fast. We have a sneaking suspicion that, come December, everyone’s going to be talking about this movie. But who wants to wait that long? Here is your guide to the Ten Things You Need to Know About The Wrestler, so you can be ahead of the curve. And don’t worry — no spoilers!
1. They get the wrestling right.
The movie isn’t really about wrestling (so don’t be scared), but it’s not like one of those awful baseball movies in which Anthony Perkins pretends to know how to throw a baseball. The movie is populated with real wrestlers, and it makes sure to nail all the little details. As in real life, when someone does a particularly dangerous move, the crowd all yells, “Holy shit! Holy shit!” and “You’re so dead! You’re so dead!” This will seem strange to non–wrestling fans, but this is really what they do at WWE matches. The hard-core fans will notice, and appreciate.
2. Kurt Cobain is a pussy.
Rourke’s Randy “the Ram” Robinson was a star wrestler in the eighties, which means the whole movie is soundtracked by glorious, awesome hair metal, his preferred genre. Haven’t heard Accept’s “Balls to the Wall” in a long time? You’re in luck: The Ram rocks out, HARD. One particularly amusing exchange between the Ram and Marisa Tomei’s stripper, Cassidy, features the line, “The eighties fuckin’ ruled, man, till that pussy Cobain came and fucked it all up.” Expect to hear the soundtrack played ironically at Christmas parties on the Lower East Side.
3. Marisa Tomei is lookin’ good.
You know how, in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Marisa Tomei is naked, like, four times? She was clearly preparing for this film, in which she plays a stripper with a heart of talc and is topless and grinding pretty much the whole time. One shot, filmed from her point of view while she’s working, will make you never, ever want to enter a strip club again.
The Ram lives alone in a New Jersey trailer and, to pass the time, occasionally invites teenagers to play a wrestling game (as his character) on the ancient, original console, while the condescending teen talks about his PS3. This scene is even more heartbreaking than it sounds.
5. Wrestlers can act.
Anyone who knows anything about professional wrestling knows that it’s about as “fake” as a razor blade to the head. (Which we see.) But who knew these guys were so natural on film? Ernest “the Cat” Miller is a former WWF wrestler who, in this movie, plays “the Ayatollah,” a faux-Arab wrestler from the eighties. The character now sells used cars and is fat and happy in retirement. Miller has three scenes, two of which involve no wrestling at all, and he’s funny, quiet, and dead-on perfect. We had no idea he was a wrestler in real life until we checked IMDb.
Expect to see the Boss on Oscar night. Bruce Springsteen’s song “The Wrestler,” written exclusively for the film, plays over the closing credits, and it’s straight from The Ghost of Tom Joad — aching, sad, gorgeous. The song’s so good, you almost expect Sean Penn to write another movie based off it, like with The Indian Runner and Bruce’s “Highway Patrolman.”
7. Don’t worry: There are no orgies.
We all know people who were scarred by the artsy intensity of Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream and are too terrified to go see another of his movies. (Others had the same reaction to The Fountain, for different reasons altogether.) Worry not: Aronofsky’s in back-to-basics mode, telling a straight story simply and plainly. It’s still expertly put together, but, for the first time, Aronofsky moves out of the way and lets the story tell itself. It’s a daring decision, actually.
8. God, Nicolas Cage would have been terrible.
When Rourke shows up for the Oscars, imagine, for a moment, what would have happened if Nicolas Cage had taken the role, as was originally planned. One shudders to think of the wig he would have worn for this. It’s a career capper for Rourke, and it’s virtually impossible to imagine anyone else playing the part.
9. You’ll never believe who the movie is dedicated to.
Well, maybe not “dedicated to,” but the last line of the credits? “The producers and filmmakers would like to extend their sincerest thanks to Axl Rose.”
10. Seriously, you’re totally going to cry.
You’ve been warned.