I'll admit it. I wanted to see The Wrestler to feast my eyes upon Marisa Tomei in her role as a stripper as much as any other reason--those reasons being the buzz that it was an excellent film, and Mickey Rourke's Oscar nomination for Best Actor.
Rourke is Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a professional wrestler of some note whose best days are behind him. Tomei is "Cassidy," an aging stripper whose friendship (and budding romance) with Randy progresses in halting fashion, as she second guesses herself all the way. Randy's wrestling gigs are few and far between. He gets locked out of his trailer for non-payment of rent, and has to supplement his income with a demeaning job behind a deli counter--where his flowing locks are reigned in by a hair net, and his patience is tried by fickle customers.
For everything he's been through, The Ram's mellow demeanor and sense of humor stay intact, for the most part, and this is why Rourke's performance was Oscar worthy--he played Randy as a gentle giant with a heart. The relationship (or non-relationship) with the wrestler's estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) is the subplot that's as bittersweet as they come.
True wrestling fans will not be disappointed with the action here. We know that pro wrestling is "fake" in that the moves are choregraphed and the outcome is predetermined, but the pounding physical punishment these guys endure is real. But I'd have preferred a little less ring action and a little more development of Tomei's character, which remains flat. We don't learn what motivates her or what she really wants out of life. HOWEVAH...there's something intriguing about an established star, who doesn't normally appear in the buff, putting it all out there for the sake of art. (Though the continuity of the film suffers when you have to keep pressing rewind on your remote, hitting pause, and zooming in to try to get the best view of her--but that's the cross we bear as red-blooded all American guys!)
While Randy's fate plays out in the way we might expect--given the events leading up to the final scene--Cassidy is more or less left hanging in the wind. In my view, she's the more tragic figure of the two. They've each plopped all of their eggs into one basket, but Randy LIVES for wrestling, so he doesn't care--he's going to put it all on the line for one last shot at glory. Whereas Cassidy, like many in her profession, feels that what she does is beneath her--it's not who she is. They all seem to have a plan (don't ask me how I know this) to put enough money together to get a fresh start doing something else, but it doesn't alway pan out that way. Cassidy's no spring chicken, and it appears she's been trading on her looks for some time. The desperation of "Where do I go from here?" is setting in.
As far as Marisa Tomei taking on this kind of role, I don't believe an actor is going to accept a part that he or she can't identify with in some way, and Tomei's dancing scenes prove that she can sleaze it up with the best of them. It must have been a relief to finally get that out of her system!
Ultimately, what The Wrestler is about is the hand that fate typically deals to those who are more adept at using their bodies than their minds.