TIFF: The Wrestler, Gigantic

The Wrestler
To say it’s been a busy week for Director Darren Aronofsky and his latest film, The Wrestler, is a bit of an understatement. 

Aronofsky mentioned to a packed public screening of the film at the Toronto Film Festival on Tuesday that he only finished The Wrestler in the last six days which is hard to believe considering the film had also just won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, found a distribution deal with Fox Searchlight for just under $4 million and is slated to close the New York Film Festival in October.

The Wrestler marks the triumphant return of one of America’s talented and most underrated actors, Mickey Rourke, in a tour-de-force performance as retired professional wrestler, Randy “The Ram” Robinson.

Having peaked 1980s when professional wrestling was in the height of its popularity, Randy is now making his way through the sagging independent wrestling circuit, full of other has-beens in low-rent arenas, trying to get back in the game for one final showdown with his former rival even though health issues from years of hard living, steroids and harsh beat downs could force the end not only is limp professional career, but of his life.

Outside the ring, all he has to show for his life is a painful relationship with his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), a tentative romance with stripper Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), and a pathetic part-time job at a supermarket that barely keeps him afloat.

This gritty picture, while at times predictable, has no false sentiment. Aronofsky allows the actors to completely inhabit their rolls and elicits stunning, raw, humble and strong performances with no vanity.

Gigantic is the engaging and eccentric directorial debut of Matt Aselton and the first feature for him and his writing partner Adam Nagata. Gigantic is an entertaining merger of romantic comedy and quirky family dramedy.

Brian Weathersby (Paul Dano) is a single, 28 year-old salesman at a high-end Swedish mattress company. The youngest son in a trio of successful brothers, a shady oil man (Ian Roberts), a surgeon (Robert Stanton), and the afterthought child to elderly parents (Ed Asner, Jane Alexander), Brian is searching for his place in the world.

Unfulfilled by his work he spends a good portion of his day pursuing his goal of someday adopting a baby from China. He gets swept up in a romance with a lovely but misguided Harriet Lolly (Zooey Deschanel) when she comes in to his store one day and falls asleep on one of his beds. In order to win her over he must compete with her bear of a father, Al Lolly, (John Goodman) an art-collecting loudmouth with a bad back and deep pockets

Gigantic is appealing due to lovely, unexpected and extremely inventive plot details that intentionally perplex and charm at the same time. At times it feels like the film is channeling its ancestors (akin to Wes Andersen’s films), but the voice writers Aselton & Nagata is unique and charming helped along with pitch perfect casting.

At the Tuesday screening at the Toronto Film Festival, Director Aselton said that the parts were not specifically written for Dano and Deschanel, but they were the first actors who really “got” what he was trying to do with the script and the story.