Marisa Tomei is God
After reading my last post in all its run-on splendor, a friend said, and not without a small amount of sarcasm, “Paragraphs? Who needs paragraphs? Chuck ‘em!” What can I say? It’s 2009 and this is the internet. Bloggers don’t ‘do’ paragraphs, now do they? It’s so much blah-blah-blah babble void of editorial know-how. Let us mourn the paragraph.
Along with alphabetizing. I wonder how this became a lost art. Most alphabetized lists of names or titles on the internet begin with the first letter of the first name or word. With names this is nothing short of horrendous. Want Humphrey Bogart? Look him up under H, not B. With titles, it’s not horrendous but downright stupid. Want The Right Stuff (1983)? Don’t look under R. (And you should look for it if you’ve never seen it — it’s been years since I last saw it, but I recall that Phil Kaufman did a splendid job on a Tom Wolfe book that failed to hold my interest.) Some lists have it under T for ‘The’ — which becomes incredibly daunting once you realize just how many movie titles begin with The. If you think there’s nothing wrong with this practice, you’re an idiot. There’s really no point in going beyond that.
This hit home when I glanced over the list of movies on demand on my cable. Wanting to see The Wrestler (2008) in HD, I had to click down the menu until I got to the Ts and the The’s. Buying movies on demand requires finesse with the remote. In the beginning I found a stash of porno movies on demand and, slightly excited, I kept pressing the ‘enter’ button instead of the arrow-down button, and inadvertently ordered a very cheesy girl-on-girl opus whose title escapes me now, for fifteen bucks. All I saw were two girls, rather ungainly to my eyes, going down on one another on videotape, shot by someone with a shaky hand on a Wal-mart camcorder. Because I watched only fifteen or twenty seconds, Comcast waived the fifteen dollar fee and I haven’t braved the porno section since.
Which has nothing to do with The Wrestler, which is a very good film despite plot contrivances that could undoubtedly be traced back to Warner Bros. melodramas of the 1930s. Perhaps I bring up the art of writing, editing, alphabetizing and the proper use of TV remotes to offer some credit to Robert Siegel, who wrote the film. We’ve grown accustomed to bestowing The Director with all credit or criticism, that the writer is almost always left in the dust. Suffice it to say, no matter how many rewrites director Darren Aronofsky did on The Wrestler — and I don’t know whether he did any or not — it still needed the germ of Siegel’s story at its center. And the focus on pro wrestling is inspired, for the sport/entertainment has remained an anomaly for decades. To use it as a background in a portrait of one man’s burnout must’ve seemed dicey at first, but in the finished work you can’t imagine Mickey Rourke’s Randy The Ram in any other milieu.
I haven’t seen a film so expert in burnout since John Huston’s Fat City (1972), and I’m not mentioning that great picture here because it was about boxing, the more legitimate cousin of pro wrestling. I mention it here because Randy The Ram had me thinking back on Stacy Keach’s Tully, who was a far more tragic figure than The Ram because he lost his mind from booze and too many punches to the head. Randy’s problems are more physical and financial, and he’s not the alcoholic Tully was. But both characters have no tangible connection to the workaday world. They live for the moments of glory provided in The Ring. They’re born entertainers with no retirement plan, no savings, no family.
Rourke was honored for his performance, but when he failed to get the Oscar many of us were stunned after so much build-up. With his beefy physique, skin damaged from the tanning bed and long dyed hair, he had me imagining Maria Bello after a botched sex change operation. Marisa Tomei was nominated (and lost) for her role as the lap dancer The Ram envisions a life with. There are splendid moments of them facing the onset of age in vocations favoring youth and stamina. Lately I find myself taken with Tomei. I never really thought much of her before. As far as I was concerned, she did My Cousin Vinny in 1992 and then slipped into obscurity. My wife tells me she was in a Cosby Show spin-off with Lisa Bonet, but I don’t remember it.
Then I saw Bent Hamer’s admirable attempt at Bukowski, Factotum (2005), where Tomei played the kind of woman I grew too familiar with back in my own barfly period in the late 1970s. She did it well and looked terrific. Then she had a small part in an instantly forgettable John Travolta movie called Wild Hogs (2007) where she looked better than ever before. She blossomed at forty-three and proved it thoroughly in Lumet’s piercing Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007) in which 80% of her screen time is spent stone naked. Reason enough for the title of this blog post.
Aronofsky has made an honest picture in The Wrestler, which I consider an advance over his earlier work — Pi (1998), Requiem for a Dream (2000) and The Fountain (2006). He’s discovered subtlety in the least subtle sport and entertainment. He’s unlocked the sublime qualities within Rourke, which have unfortunately remained dormant for far too long. This is a beautiful, loving story of an outsider, painfully out of touch with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood in a brief but superb performance), unable to hook up with a woman hesitant toward his advances. Its characters feel genuine and their dialog’s believable. I was so very pleased that I could find it under ‘The’ and knew how to press the correct buttons to request it through a cable device poised to drive me nuts.
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