There's enough in this movie to ensure that The Wrestler isn't a simple tale of Randy having his one last moment in the sun; he does, but he has to sacrifice any personal relationships, a normal life, and even his health, to do so. "You people here," he tells the fans at the end, "you're my family." But instead of feeling pride, instead of feeling love, or inspiration, or hope, I only came away with pity for Randy. And Aronofsky definitely wants us to feel pride, what with the slow motion, the cheers of the crowd, and the tears streaming down Randy's face. He's a man who had turned things around for himself - both with his daughter and with Pam. He was given a chance, he messed it up, and then he was given that rarest of blessings, a second chance. And he still chose the ring.
Maybe that was the point, though. If Randy had chosen otherwise, we'd be looking at a lessons-learned, bridges-rebuilt, happily-ever-after ending; and I daresay that many professional wrestlers, who have to work 300 days out of the year, constantly tour and endure injury after injury don't get that kind of ending. To them, the movie is true. Maybe what I don't like about this movie is the same reality that they have to live with.
Rourke turns in a decent performance as The Wrestler, but I get the impression that Rourke's hardest work was done in his preparation for the role - training as a professional wrestler, taking the bumps, and legitimately cutting himself. His scenes of dialog fail to impress, with his low, slow delivery making you conscious of every second ticking by. It's really when he's in front of an audience - whether wrestling fans or customers at the deli - does Rourke shine. Evan Rachel Wood, as his daughter Stephanie, alternates between the sullen alienated teenager and… that's it, really. Even when she and her father are reconnecting, Rourke does all the talking (still in that low, slow voice of his). Their final scene together, when she tells him that he doesn't exist in her world anymore, is a tight moment that is well acted. None of their other moments connect, which is a shame considering their respective talents, and that Randy's relationship with his daughter is key to his decisions and actions.
For me, Marisa Tomei (Pam/"Cassidy") delivers the strongest performance in the movie. Caught between her friendship and feelings for Randy, drawing an uncrossable line between her professional and private lives, while trying to raise a family of her own, Tomei brings the torture and conflict across much better than Mickey Rourke does for his character in a similar predicament. When Pam begs Randy to leave the ring, telling him, "I'm here, I'm really here", you can't help but feel for this woman; like Randy, she's past her sell-by date at what she does, but she's willing to take a risk and change things. Randy's ultimate decision ("The only place I get hurt is out there") makes perfect sense in the context of everything he's been through, but it still feels more like an escape, a way out, than it is an old gladiator having his one last moment of glory.
Darren Aronofsky and team put up a compelling show with The Wrestler that evidently spoke to a lot of people - movie critics and moviegoers, wrestlers and wrestling fans. And Aronofsky should get credit for not taking the easy way out - it's a bittersweet movie, and there are no "happily-ever-after" endings for the characters here. But ultimately, everything ends as it starts - Randy is in the ring, and the real world, with its problems, its responsibilities, its consequences and its rewards is far away. Aronofsky wants you to wonder which is better, and which is more "real", and there's enough between the lines to make it interesting; but the movie never pulls you in deep enough make you ask the question yourself.