(VENICE, ITALY) Prediction: Mickey Rourke "The Ram" will win Best Actor at the next Academy Awards. (Sorry for those headlines, but I couldn't resist:)
When Mickey Rourke arrived at the press conference this afternoon, everyone burst into spontaneous applause. Half the spectators gave him a standing ovation, including yours truly. I know I keep using words like deeply "shaken" and "emotional," but this film festival has been a roller-coaster ride for me as an American. I just told the Director, Marco Mueller, that he even though there were only five American films, they were five perfect American films, and that he had done a brilliant job. He said he had been criticized for not having more. I said, "Don't listen to them. It was perfect; the films were shown in the right order, and culminating with The Wrestler was brilliant." He had just finished the press conference with Ermanno Olmi, who is receiving the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, and is one of the most beautiful speakers I've ever heard. Olmi spoke about the current lack of courage to say what you are thinking, and had asked, where are the writers? Where are the journalists? Why isn't anybody writing about these things? So I told Marco Mueller that I had a blog, and that I could write about these things.
Anyway, back to The Wrestler. Again, this is a very New Jersey film. (JERSEY RULES!) I blinked during the scene with Evan Rachel Wood, who plays Randy the Ram's (Mickey Rourke) daughter, because the house she lived in could have been yanked from my hometown. I was dying to know what town it was. All towns in NJ look alike, but this town really looked like Pompton Lakes!
One of the first questions to Mickey Rourke was if he had studied one wrestler in particular to prepare for the role. Mickey (who used to be a boxer) said that to be honest, he had looked down on wrestling, and that he had never taken it seriously. The director, Darren Aronofsky forced him to train, and after two months, he had a new respect for wrestling. He said, "Even if it is staged, when a 250 pound guy throws you across the room, it hurts."
An Australian journalist (who always seems to be called on to ask one of the first questions -- do you think it's a conspiracy?:) said there was talk of an Oscar; that Mickey was fantastic, gushing on and on. She said she had seen Kim Basinger earlier in the festival in The Burning Plain, and was wondering if Mickey and Kim were both making comebacks. Mickey looked bewildered. He said, "The last time I was in a movie with Kim Basinger, we were on two separate continents. I haven't seen her for twenty years." Then he added, "But she still looks great." (I am paraphrasing the press conference, as usual.)
The director, Darren Aronfsky said that people had said, "You are going to work with Mickey Rourke? Are you crazy? He is impossible to work with." Darren replied, "Not the Mickey Rourke I know. The Mickey Rourke I know is a sweet, sensitive man. Underneath all that armor there is a puppy dog."
Mickey raved about Evan Rachel Wood's talent. He said, "The first time I saw her, she had to do a very emotional scene. She's like 20-years-old. She's got so much talent. When I worked with her, I thought, that bitch can act!" Evan Rachel Wood said, "I never met Mickey until the first scene when I worked with him. Darren told me to open to the door and see who was there. I think the first thing I ever said to Mickey Rourke was, "You're such an asshole."
Marisa Tomei, who plays an aging stripper, was not here. But she looked absolutely fabulous, dahling, and can do a mean pole dance:) If I had to criticize one thing about the film, it would be that I thought that role was underwritten. I loved that she was a stripper, but the dialogue was bare to the bone. Marisa Tomei did a valiant job with what was written, but compared to the other roles for women here at the festival, that character did not hold up.
Someone asked Darren about how he managed to get the Bruce Springsteen song at the end of the film. He said, "That was because Bruce is such a great friend of Mickey's. I had nothing to do with it."
Mickey said, "Bruce wrote that song, and he had had a very heavy year. He lost one bandmate after thirty years, and then he lost another. He was touring. But he still managed to write that song."
Mickey was asked the same basic question over and over by journalists of different nationalties, which was: Is this your comeback? Is this character you? Are there parallels between this character and yourself? Mickey answered over and over and over very politely, with humor. It was really getting to be too much, as if none of the journalists were listening to each other, and they all thought they had come up with this unique, fabulous question. (Remember, I had my hand up all this time, and was not being called on, and was growing frustrated.) Mickey was speaking in East Coast slang; Darren was speaking in East Coast slang with a touch of Harvard;I wanted to splash some East Coast slang out there and let them know there was a comrade in the crowd, but I didn't get the chance. Mickey remarked that they weren't sure they should bring the film to Venice because there was no wrestling culture here. He said, "But an aging athelete, no matter what the sport, is in the same position. It's painful because you can no longer do what you want to do. And then someone -- usually someone else -- not themselves -- tells them it's time to retire. Whether you're a wrestler, a boxer, soccer player, whatever, you feel the same."
Anyway, after answering that question over and over and over again, finally Mickey was brutually honest: "What is a comeback? What are you coming back from? The character is living in shame. His wife divorced him. His daughter hates him. The emotion he feels is shame. Fifteen years ago I threw my career away. I know what it feels like to have been something, and then to become a has-been. Sometimes you think it might be better to never have been anything at all. It was shameful what I did. I have no one to blame but myself."
He said that matter-of-factly, directly, honestly, with strength. Just the way he played Randy "The Ram" Robinson. He is so incredibly likeable! Yes! Mickey Rourke is humble and sweet and likeable! Plus, he can still kick ass!
Someone asked if the movie was hopeful. Darren Aronofsky turned to the spectators. "Who thinks the movie gives hope?" I raised my hand, but many people didn't. Darren said, "Well, I am an optimistic person." Once again, the filmmakers said they felt like they were making a fictional documentary. I think they all said that, everyone except the Coen Brothers.
Anyway, I have only heard one other American voice ask a single question during all these American film press conferences (do you think it's a conspiracy?:) Yesterday, instead of pressing the matter, I just called Kathryn Bigelow's representative and asked him to give her a message, which was: "Please tell her I think she's incredibly brave. Please tell her I really respect what she did." He said, "Thank you. She will be very happy to hear that."
With that in mind, today I just walked up to the podium after the conference and said, "Yo, Robert!" Robert Siegel, the screenwriter, turned to me. "I'm Cat Bauer and I live here. Don't you think it's funny that there wasn't a single question from an American?" Robert said, "Um, yeah! If I had known you were American, I would have called on you myself." I said, "I'm from New Jersey. Are you?" I think he said he was from Brooklyn. I said, "What is town is that house in the film, number 29?" He said, "Evan Rachel Wood's house? Gee, I don't know. I'll ask." He asked someone and came back. "Hackensack." I said, "I'm from Pompton Lakes." Then we sort of gave each other the thumbs up.
They were dragging Mickey Rourke away, so I said, "Yo, Mickey!" Mickey stopped. I said, "I want to thank you. I was crying when I left the theater." Mickey said, "I was crying all during the film. Darren made me cry." I said, "You're making a comeback? I'm making a comeback, too. We're all making a comeback." Mickey said, "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you." Then we sort of gave each other the thumbs up:)
Did Mickey Rourke just made a comeback with Randy "The Ram" Robinson? To me, he made a breakthrough to another level of existence. As did America. When you all see what I just saw, you will understand. Here is the list, and there is only one movie on this list I don't recommend:
^Burn After Reading by the Coen Brothers (not in competition)
1. The Burning Plain by Guillermo Arriago
2. Vegas - Based on a True Story by Amir Naderi (I did not like this film)
3. Rachel Getting Married by Jonathan Demme
4. The Hurt Locker by Kathryn Bigelow
5. The Wrestler by Darren Aronofsky
Which movie will win? I don't know yet if I'll come out to Lido tomorrow night to find out or not. It might be interesting. I am still betting on the The Burning Plain, but now lots of people (especially the guys) want The Wrestler. I think Mickey Rourke will definitely win Best Actor.
Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,