Though the story is somewhat lacking in creativity, The Wrestler is an involving drama with a linear story that will likely provide a decent amount of emotional satisfaction to most who see it. The first third of the film is effective in its realistic depiction of the world of wrestling, particularly the staged elements of it - in the changing room, before heading out to the ring, we see fighters who will be facing off discussing how the fights will play out. Darren Aronofsky's film shows us that this is still a sport that can yield many real physical wounds, and Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) not only knows every major wound in his body, but remembers the year in which he got it and the fight in which it was dealt to him. An even more dire consequence of Randy's participation in said brutal sport comes when he has a heart attack after a fight and is informed by his doctor that he can no longer wrestle. This marks the beginning of the core of The Wrestler's plot, which essentially depicts how no matter how physically hurt you get participating in a sport like wrestling, the chances are much higher that you'll get hurt in an even worse way when you decide to face your demons in the real world, as is the case with Randy in his frustrated attempt to establish a romantic relationship with the night club dancer Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), whose real name is Pam, and in his equally fruitless efforts to make amends with his daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood).
I'm not completely straying from majority opinion here because I do think Mickey Rourke gives a very good lead performance as the film's main character, but when it comes to dramas, one's opinion on an acting job is all about how that individual viewer was impacted by the performer's on-screen work, and in my case, I've seen a handful of better dramatic performances. Rourke is at his best during the scene at the beach when he breaks down while trying to establish a paternal relationship with Stephanie, but I didn't find many other scenes in the film in which he had much room to shine. In fact, I was more impressed with Marisa Tomei's work: as one of today's best working actresses, she gives a fearless performance as the stripper who is also a mother, never succumbing to the hokey "innocent prostitute" role, and her reaction shots during the final few minutes of her appearance on the film are great. Evan Rachel Wood also proves yet again that she's an excellent emotional performer, as she started showing in her early days on the TV show Once & Again and still today in The Wrestler despite not being in the film all that much (she had more space to display her range in this year's earlier The Life Before Her Eyes).
The lackings in The Wrestler are, predictably, the same ones that tend to afflict dramas that are good but don't quite reach the potency they aspire to. Some scenes are forced. Though I mentioned that Wood gives a very good performance as Randy's daughter, the scene in which she suddenly seems to accept him as her father and dances with him in the empty ballroom comes much quicker than it should, as it didn't seem that enough had happened to warrant an event like that just yet. When Randy has no choice but to start working at the deli counter at the grocery store he works in, the scene that depicts him walking towards the deli counter shooting him from the back with the background noise of the cheering crowd (to establish a parallelism with his wrestling days) is too obvious and goes on longer than it should. The event that sort of propels Randy getting pissed off at the deli counter features an old woman telling him, back and forth, "a little more, a little less," forcing him to adjust the serving quantity each time, and again, it's a little bit exaggerated, and the filmmakers could've surely come up with a more believable situation to set the main character off, in order to jump-start the film's climax.
During this decade Darren Aronofsky's films have now officially run the gamut in terms of quality. In 2000, he gave us the searingly masterful Requiem For A Dream (one of those rare movies that is indeed great, but I could never watch again, because it's simply too hair-raising for more than one viewing), and in 2006 he gave us a horrible misfire with The Fountain (an absolute mess of an artsy film, with gigantic ambitions that end up amounting to nothing). Now he's given us The Wrestler which is admittedly good, but I have to disagree with the majority opinion that it's one of the year's best dramas - it simply doesn't feature much that hasn't been done equally well or better in other movies. Nonetheless, it is very well-performed, and it benefits from a hefty amount of sincere and poignant moments.