It’s been a little over 3 years since it’s release and I am still as crazy about The Wrestler as I was the first time I saw it. It’s the combination of Mickey Rourke’s heart wrenching performance, the reminiscing about the glory days of professional wrestling, and its New Jersey setting that makes it hit so close to home for me. Darren Aronofsky’s masterpiece remains legendary, especially to fans of the pro-wrestling business, but we the fans need to keep it alive! One way to do that is through wearing The Ram’s t-shirt!
Even though there was a glimpse of a Randy “The Ram” Robinson action figure in the movie, it was merely a custom job. You may be able to find a few custom Ram figures in the outer reaches of the Internet, but that’s about it. Since The Wrestler wasn’t watered down by a marketing onslaught, fans took it upon themselves to create t-shirts for their broken down Jersey hero. I wore mine this past weekend, and I’ve also noticed WWE’s Curt Hawkins (Zack Ryder’s former tag partner) proudly wearing a black Randy “The Ram” T-shirt as well. You can purchase one via Zazzle at this link.
If you thought The Wrestler was simply the wrestling version of Rocky, after reading this post you’ll think differently. The immense amount of similarities between 1988’s Homeboy and 2008’s The Wrestler make them more suitable companion films. The Wrestler, came 20 years after Homeboy, but both star Mickey Rourke and are filmed in New Jersey. Now join me at ringside as we pit boxer Johnny Walker vs. former wrestling superstar Randy “The Ram” Robinson…
Both The Wrestler and Homeboy’s New Jersey setting and stirring cinematography transported me directly into their respective main character’s agonizing world. While The Ram was your typical beefed up bleach blonde babyface who has seen better days, Homeboy’s Johnny Walker had shorter hair, and a western flair, but they were both equally beaten down, fading athletes.
Randy the Ram was grappling with his own demons and masking his pain with drugs, but Johnny Walker put himself in danger when he merely stepped into the ring. Walker also continued to align himself with an underhanded promoter prick only out for the purse, Christopher Walken’s Wesley Pendergass. It was easy to feel bad for a weathered, wandering cowboy who was being manipulated by a sleazy low level crook. As Pendergass, Walken is so Walkeny that you’d think he’s doing an impression of himself. This is classic Walken.
During the making of the two films, Rourke had more difficulty adjusting to training to become a wrestler since he had previously been a boxer for several years before pursuing acting. His bio on Wikipedia reveals that he suffered at least two concussions during his early boxing matches. His ring experience in real life clearly lent authenticity to both roles. Rourke even used Guns n Roses “Sweet Child o’ Mine” as his entrance music in his boxing bouts, while Randy “The Ram” Robinson chose to use the same song in the last match against The Ayatollah in The Wrestler.
In 1997 singer Paula Cole begged to know “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?” Homeboy might not answer that question precisely, but after watching the film it’s obvious that all the cowboys slash boxers have gone to Asbury Park. Considering that Rourke wrote the screenplay for Homeboy (under his nom de plum “Sir Eddie Cook) and that he went back to boxing after his declining movie career, Homeboy becomes even more poignant. Although there’s many differences between boxing and professional wrestling, there’s almost no separation between Rourke, Johnny Walker, and Randy “The Ram” Robinson. Throughout his own boxing career, in addition to concussions, Rourke suffered a number of injuries such as broken bones, a compressed cheekbone, and short term memory loss. All that plus accusations that he was washed up as an actor fueled his performances in these films.
*Currently Homeboy is streaming on Netflix
Whether you are a hardcore McMahon disciple or you’re strictly into ROH and other indy organizations, the fact is that TNA Wrestling puts one hell of an awesome house show. Presently, the Nashville TN based wrestling organization has their show on the road and will be hauling it up to The Rahway Recreational Center in New Jersey on March 12th. The last time TNA came to The Rahway Rec Center in September, the air conditioning wasn’t working and the place was like a sauna. Words can’t describe to you the melange of smells wafting around that gym. I temporarily changed my name to The Sweaty Armpit that night.
Luckily they weren’t lying and the show they put on actually was full of non-stop action. If TNA could only capture that excitement and put it on TV, they would probably see a ratings boost. It reminded me of the old days of ECW, it was simple, no ridiculous pyro or lasers, just wrestling! Perhaps the reason why the Rahway TNA shows are successful has something to do with their association with the local Jersey All Pro Wrestling organization.
The best part about a TNA house show is that they actually follow the story lines and occasionally you’ll witness a title exchange. At the last show Elizabeth NJ’s Jay Lethal won back the X-Division title from Amazing Red in front of his hometown crowd! As Gorilla Monsoon used to say, the place went bananas! Mick Foley also showed up and ignited the crowd upon dropping some trivia that Randy “The Ram” Robinson from The Wrestler was from Rahway just before he confronted the team of The Shore (Robbie E. and Cookie). Unlike at WWE shows, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to try and get autographs and maybe a picture with your favorite TNA star. And don’t be concerned about ticket prices either; starting at $23 bucks, they are very reasonable. It definitely beats listening to Michael Cole and watching The Miz.
The world of a professional wrestler, with the outfits, the personas, and the fans will always be a myriad of truths and fictions. Yes, the outcomes are preordained and the storylines scripted, but no it isn’t fake; they really get hit and injured (sometimes permanently) and do things that should only be tried on Jackass!. But underneath this world, for the ones that have left the limelight behind, it’s only one of memories and disappointments. And to look closer, it is also a mirror into the career of Mickey Rourke. Once considered the next Robert De Niro with legendary roles in such 80’s classics as Diner, 9 ½ Weeks, and The Pope of Greenwich Village, Rourke’s star soon faded in the 90’s along with his career, which led him to briefly take up professional boxing. But after a small resurgence in bit parts, Rourke slowly found himself in demand which lead to a breakout of sorts in the 2000’s, with prominent roles in Once Upon a Time in Mexico and Sin City which brings us to The Wrestler. Upon first look, it’s easy to dismiss the movie as Rocky with wrestling in place of boxing. But after numerous viewings, it is an example of Rourke’s power as an actor as well as an excellent portrait of New Jersey in all its truth and grittiness.
Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Rourke, who trained with real life wrestler Afa Anoai) is an ’80s wrestling star that has long since been out of the spotlight. Working on the independent circuit in gymnasiums and schools, Randy is a broken man in every aspect. His muscled body cannot stand the abuse anymore, and he keeps himself going with pain pills and steroids. Outside the ring, he makes ends meet as a stock clerk at a supermarket, constantly bullied by his boss, while trying to coax Cassidy, a stripper (Marissa Tomei, who bares everything and looks damn better than women half her age), to see him outside her work. He has long since lost contact with his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and longs to be back on top, which may happen by a chance rematch with his old nemesis The Ayatollah (Ernest “The Cat” Miller). But his wrestling career is put in jeopardy after an extremely violent “hardcore” match leads to a heart attack that nearly kills him. Now Randy must decide if a last chance shot at fame is worth everything, including his very life.
Director Darren Aronofsky perfectly captures the balance of a person and wrestler. One minute, Randy is larger than life in the ring, playing to the crowd and basking in the attention; the next, he is sad and pathetic at his work, doing menial labor and swallowing his pride to work the deli counter. Rourke disappears into the role from beginning to end. In addition to performing some of the wrestling scenes, Aronofsky filmed him waiting on real customers at the deli counter in order to keep the scenes as realistic as possible. Apart from Rourke, Marissa Tomei also scored an Oscar nomination as a woman who is much like the Ram; well past her prime to be working in a strip club (Cheeques, located in Linden if you’re interested), she struggles night after night, and well aware that she is being passed over for the younger entertainers. Both Randy and Cassidy live in an era that has long since passed; the ’80s, celebrating the music and clothing, trying to deny the current times around them. An excellent example is summed up during their meeting at a bar while RATT plays in the background: “Yeah, the ’90s really sucked.”
Along with Rourke and Tomei, another star is the state of New Jersey. With a short shooting schedule, Aronofsky filmed on location in Linden, Bayonne, Rahway, Roselle Park, Hasbrouck Heights, Garfield, Elizabeth, and Asbury Park while other scenes where filmed in Pennsylvania and New York. What really captures the spirit of the film is a scene in Asbury Park, where Randy has a brief reunion with his daughter. Asbury has undergone a complete renovation and transformed into a more glitzy, trendy affair of clubs, restaurants, and hotels. But at the time of filming, it was a forgotten, dilapidated boardwalk of empty venues and boarded up businesses. But New Jersey is kinda like that; most of the industries that populated Newark, Passaic, and Paterson (to name a few) had been outsourced and left the Garden State high and dry. Much like Randy, time has not been too kind to the state, but still everyone (me included) still remembers when good times were to be had and hope was not a lost word.
The Wrestler won numerous awards from every film festival from here to Toronto and, following two wins at the Golden Globes including best actor and best original song (courtesy of original NJ’er Bruce Springsteen) was expected to win big at the Academy Awards. But sadly, it came up short with Rourke losing out to Sean Penn and Tomei to Penelope Cruz, but it gave people around the world a new reason to consider Mickey Rourke a major talent again as well as showing New Jersey in a non-Jersey Shore light. Subtle, funny, and moving, The Wrestler is definitely one of the best films in the past decade.
Cassidy: Fuckin’ 80’s man, best shit ever!
In The Wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke, it seems that Marisa Tomei plays a stripper. I’m a big fan of her recent renaissance as an on screen sexpot. Anytime Marisa Tomei is nude or partially nude is a good thing (see Until The Devil Knows Your Dead). I’ve pondered how incredible she looked under those clothes since I was a kid watching A Different World and now I wonder no more. How does this work into The Sexy Armpit you say? Some scenes in The Wrestler were filmed in New Jersey and a new Bruce Springsteen track is featured in the closing credits.