The world of wrestling has come a long way since its carnival sides show days. Wrestlers such as Hulk Hogan, The Rock, John Cena and Andre the Giant have become household names to both wrestling fans and novices alike. However, names like Mountain, Fiji, Tina Ferrari, Little Egypt and Roxy Astor have gone unnoticed despite their important contribution to professional wrestling. In the male dominated industry of wrestling the plight of the female wrestler often gets lost in the shuffle. Fortunately Brett Whitcomb’s engaging documentary, GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, does a good job of giving the women a voice and the recognition they deserve.
Up until the 1980’s, female wrestlers were nothing more than a gimmick. That all changed when GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling hit the airwaves and made televisions ratings history by being the first all female professional wrestling show. Whitcomb documents the rise of GLOW from its inception, including the show’s misleading casting calls, all the way to the over-the-top sketches and wrestling moves that made the show a hit in the late 80’s. However, GLOW was not all body slams and bad acting, as the show evolved so did the women. Not only did they start to embody their characters, but an unbreakable bond was formed between many of the women. When GLOW was unexpectedly cancelled in 1990, at the height of its popularity, the women found themselves looking for closure on a brief, but important time in their lives.
There have been several documentaries, such as Beyond the Mat and Memphis Heat for example, that have done a good job of capturing both the larger-than-life personalities and overall history of wrestling. However, it is the fact that GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling manages to capture the cheesy fun that wrestling programs often provide, that sets it apart. The film features several hilarious clips from the show including the musical promos that the cast often had to rap. This helps to establish a good understanding of what GLOW had to offer and why it would appeal to both children and frat boys alike.
Despite the absurdity of some of the antics that happened onscreen, Whitcomb makes a point to show that many of the female wrestlers on the show were simply average women looking to break into Hollywood until they got bit by the wrestling bug. Some of the most engaging moments of the film come when women are describing their transformation from auditioning for a “children’s program” to the toll that wrestling has taken on their bodies. In a revealing discussion with Mando Guerrero, patriarch of the legendary Guerrero wrestling clan, we get a glimpse of the turning point in which professional wrestling became more than just an acting job for several of the women. Those who had a previous wrestling background share stories of the hardships they endured, such as having to wrestle animals, before GLOW and their obsession to continue wrestling despite the health risks.
Although the documentary keeps the tone light throughout, there are some brief moments that allude to a darker side of the industry. Most notably the way the women were manipulated verbally and mentally by show director Matt Cimber, a Hollywood film director who also provided GLOW with its initial funding, to ensure they managed their weight. The fact that the women were also encouraged to stay in character at all times , not to mention a strict curfew being unforced is a bit unsettling, but Whitcomb does not dwell on these moments. His film is meant as a celebration of the women and on that level he greatly succeeds. GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling is a fun, and surprisingly touching, tale of both friendship and overcoming the odds, without ever being too sentimental. The film will bring a smile to your face while in the theatre, and have you surfing Youtube for more classic GLOW moments when you get home.