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On the Road: The Wrestler and Portland

By George Thomas Published: January 21, 2009



Sometimes reality and stereotypes actually meet.  Take going to Portland for instance.  I'd always heard this beautiful city was where hippies went to age and vote for Barack Obama.  Proof of the former:  the Alaska Airlines flight I was on where half the folks there sported flip-flops.  Glad no one suffered from athlete's foot and foot odor.  The proof of the latter came today when Barack Obama was inaugurated as president.  Oregon's folks gave him a 13-point edge over John McCain in the general election. 

Yes, I'm in a comtemplative, mind blown kind of mood.  How else should I feel?  There are mornings I wake up and don't remember which city I'm in.  The other mind blower of the day?  Getting the chance actually breathe while covering the Cavaliers today.  It gave me the opportunity to appreciate some of the grander things in life such as just hangin' out at Manhattan Beach in California and sniffing the smell of decaying fish. And to think, I thought I'd have to wait until mid-summer on the shores of the lake called Erie for that.  Nope. For the first time I felt at home in Cali.  That's saying a lot because I normallly detest SoCal.  The disdain came from 12 years of dealing with certain mukety mucks at a host of Hollywood studios when I worked as a movie critic at the Beacon Journal and the News-Herald in Lake County.

I guess when you hang out with the plastic people of Hollywood, those who judge you by the car you drive, you'll get that feeling.  I finally got to meet some real L.A. folks.  I realize that's tough to believe given that just Monday night I was covering a Lakers' game, where the celebs go to be normal.

And there were a few celebs there.  Jeffrey Katzenberg - head of DreamWorks Animation.  Joel Silver - uber producer responsible for The Matrix films and we can thank him for giving us that masterpiece Speed Racer in the spring of '08.   And, my oh my, there's Sly.  Sly Stallone.  Pumped up, buff and short.  As a movie critic, I interviewed them all. Surely they'd remember me.  NOT!   I was crushed, mortified.  I cried like Niagara Falls.  And that was after I saw how much the hoodie I bought for my son at the Staples Center would cost.


What Los Angeles did allow me to do in a couple of days  is relight my passion for films - especially those of the independent variety.  Me and a colleague caught The Wrestler Tuesday afternoon.  Please, allow me to put my critic's hat back on.

Directed by a filmmaker I admire, Darren Aronofsky, The Wrestler hooked me for two reasons - the performances of its two leads - Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei.

Rourke portrays Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a washed up '80s era wrestler with a long mane of hair, a face scarred by too many chairs to the puss and more than a few knocks to the nose.  Think of him as a Hulk Hogan type who didn't bother saving the cash.

He lives in a rented trailer that he's locked out of on occasion for not paying rent.  He injects more performance enhancing drugs than any baseball player from the steroids era.  His relationship with his daughter is in the toilet because of his selfishness.

But Randy possesses heart - big time.  He's got a thing for Cassidy (Tomei) a near washed up stripper who tries to hide her ever growing feelings for him by treating him like any other guy who sticks a dollar bill in her G-string.

He continues to live off his name and "wrestle" in small towns until it all begins to catch up with him.  He suffers a heart attack after a match and the doctor advises him to stop.

And he tries.  He takes on more hours at the grocery store where his boss thinks he has license to rip on him because he's a wrestler.  He wants to make a go of things with Cassidy and more importantly, he wants to right things with his daughter.

Unfortunately, some of those things just aren't meant to be.  Which ones?  Why spoil the fun - even if most of it comes from the performances of Rourke and Tomei.

Rourke is the latest washed-up actor who gets to resurrect his career with a memorable role.  Having dropped off Hollywood's radar long ago, Randy is a role he was born to play because of the parellels in their existences.  It's an Oscar-caliber performance.

Tomei, an actress we see far too little, matches Rourke note for note.  They interact perfectly as too characters with so much in common that the audience can see that they're soulmates, but one of them can't.  Her role isn't that stereotypical hooker or stripper with a heart of gold.  This is a role of substance about a woman who seems to have lost hope only to find it in an unlikely spot.


The Wrestler is a strong film with strong performances and certainly worth the time in a theater.  Look for it at the Cedar-Lee Theatre beginning Friday.


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