The last week has brought truly tragic news in the wrestling world, with the passing of Pedro Aguayo Ramirez following an allegedly fatal blow in a match in Mexico with Rey Mysterio and others. This week also saw a far less meaningful, yet continually depressing showing from WWE as they near the final stop on the road to WrestleMania. In a year that held so much promise, the world’s largest pro wrestling company has squandered ready-made feuds, soaring talent, and the fans’ goodwill. I could write about all of the missteps made, and how irate I feel about WWE sabotaging the beloved WrestleMania brand, but I’m opting for silver linings this week.
Because in the same world as the AAA accident and WWE ineptitude, we have “Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling.” And because we watch wrestling to escape, this film on YouTube deserves more attention than most of the other sensationalized, disheartening stuff. When I woke up last Tuesday morning, enough recommendations had piled up in my Inbox that I hit Snooze and settled in to watch the clip, written and directed by Max Landis.
“When you have enough heart, and a weird enough face, you can reach the top of this industry.”
In an era of short attention spans and pessimism, Landis had me hooked, full-on and full of glee for the full 24 minutes of his film. It’s the go-home show we all need to see. I don’t want to spoil it, but I do want to celebrate it.
Max Landis is Likeable, One of Us
Happiness is… a cold beer, and a buddy to talk wrestling with. I’m assuming Max omitted the tray of nachos simply because all that crunching would have muddled his splendid commentary. He’s the best choice to make his own point, because he wrote it, and knows exactly what sorts of gestures and expressions should be paired with it. I instantly love Max Landis, because he clearly loves wrestling, and cleverly captures why the rest of us love it too.
It’s only just now, after repeated viewings of this film, that I’ve connected the Motorhead shirt to Triple H. Two snaps and a Stella!
The Devil’s in The Little Things
One of my favorite wrestling commentators is Kyle Edwards, who is currently doing live event updates for WWE, and hosted a post-Raw show in Canada with Renee Young a few years ago. I always liked his balanced view of the wrestling world, but he really won my heart with The Little Things (or if you follow him @KyleEdwardsWWE, it’s #TheLittleThings). Kyle has an eye for the nuances that make wrestling goofy and special, and I’m guessing he’d love the attention to detail in this film. You can watch it several times, and catch something new each time. Our esteemed wrestling programs tend to rush, and revise history, but every now and then you will spy that Easter egg that only dedicated fans will appreciate. Max Landis gets it, and gives us a bounty of eggs to hunt for.
Doing Dark Well
Liberated from the confines of TV ratings, Landis tells a darkly comic story that can be childish or grown up as needed. His actors’ jealousy, rage, and desperation is more potent than a year’s worth of angst in WWE. Why? Well his lead, Chloe Dystra is a clever actress. Her performance in this video is like an homage to Vince McMahon’s best work as The Overactor of Our Generation. But the difference is that Chloe is being given rich, funny material, and it’s portioned out so that we’re left wanting more. The camera loves her, and she is a NATURAL. I love a good, slow burn as much as anyone, but this is an example of quality over quantity. Chloe Dykstra wields a sledgehammer with more menace than a spitting, snarling Triple H.
Women Portraying Men
That’s right, a woman plays Triple H in this film. And a woman plays Shawn Michaels, and The Rock, and Ric Flair, and John Cena. They’re like a troupe of interpretive cos-players, not trying to BE the wrestlers, but nailing the ESSENCE of their characters. I hesitate to say that Landis went the gender-bending route as a statement about women’s wrestling, because frankly, I think he was endeared by the coolness of it. Why try to cast stand-ins for these iconic men, when it would be far more entertaining to have an attractive crew of women steal the show?
They are beautiful, charismatic females portraying legendary male wrestlers, and by the end of the 20-minute story, you forget that you’re not watching Triple H, or even a reasonable facsimile. It proves two things: first, the story’s the thing, and second, that women can be just as compelling as men. How pitiful that we must repeatedly shout it to the heavens, our voices fading out among the constellations. And while companies exist that foster women’s wrestling, the fact remains that WWE is considered the company to aspire to, regardless of gender.
Look at the Bella twins: they are the stars of Total Divas and have prolific wrestling roles on Raw. And yet, even Nikki and Brie have said they’d like some time in NXT, where the women’s division features high-caliber wrestling. In my opinion, seeing someone like Charlotte Flair put on a brilliantly-executed, emotional match is even more poignant than the men doing so. Not just because I feel a kinship for her as a woman, but also because she is one of the few who gets to truly ply her craft on a WWE stage, and it must feel damn good.
Many have said that the formula for a top WWE Superstar is that “men should want to be them, and women should want to be with them” and I’d argue that Landis gives us characters to aspire to, and swoon over. Can you imagine if they could also run the ropes? And if Landis ran WWE Creative, and I had a unicorn to ride to work?
And a Sullen Man Playing Chyna
Is it terrible that I laughed out loud when I saw Chyna being played by a man, one who looks more like Attitude-Era Chyna than Chyna looks now?
Intriguing and Kind of Random Sets
This is no bargain-basement home movie. Landis is the real deal, giving us beautiful, stark, funky, and unexpected settings against which to tell his story. And because he delivers the story in such a rapid-fire manner, these gorgeous, sometimes-nonsensical sets (and costumes) are also an assault on the senses.
Count the Cameos
As I said, I don’t want to spoil too much of his film, and so I’ll simply encourage you to spot as many cameo appearances as you can. I’m sure I still haven’t gotten them all.
There’s Art in It After All
And though there be tutus and dick jokes, there is much to be admired in the way Max Landis made this film. I know nothing about film making, but loved how he framed each shot, went gonzo on the energy, and voiced every single character. The music itself took me on a ride, and I dare you to walk away without Five for Fighting’s “Superman – It’s Not Easy” (or the slacker version thereof) echoing in your head.
Landis made me feel like I was the intended audience, even though he claims to be addressing the skeptics who whine, “Why do you watch wrestling? Wrestling’s not real!” I guess that in proving his claim that wrestling is a lot of great things, he is offering positive reinforcement to those of us who are dedicated to those great things, even in the lean times.
“Now don’t get me wrong. A lot of wrestling sucks. But when it’s good, it’s f-cking GREAT.”
Sometimes you have to look at the big picture in order to appreciate the storytelling. And at a time when it’s so easy to get bogged down WWE’s mire of missteps, one could also take the 20,000-foot view: how will this WrestleMania season figure in the grand story of Bray Wyatt’s career? In Roman Reigns’?
Thanks to Max Landis for making me think about it that way.
And now it’s time for you to watch “Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling”, and share it with your friends – both fans and skeptics. I’d love to read your comments below, or tweet me @kickyhick or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy WrestleMania week to you all! May your nachos be cheesy and your spoilers be wrong.