When alums from TV's Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling reunite in a Vegas hotel more than 20 years after their show was canceled, three show up in wheelchairs. A few of the ambulatory ones boast torn ACLs or serious wrist injuries. But in the interviews that guide the narrative of Brett Whitcomb's documentary, their memories are fond—and, unexpectedly, free from much sense of exploitation.
When show creator David McLane launched GLOW in 1986, his motivation did seem to be a lifelong love of wrestling and a genuine desire to bring a greater audience to women in the ring. The show's director, Matt Cimber, is described as having a strong comedic sense. One wrestler explains the conflict: "David wanted to combine the glamor and the grit. Matt's idea was to make it campy and silly." This resulted in a women's wrestling show where the requisite trash-talking is edged out by sketch comedy, in-program infomercials and tongue-in-cheek "behind the scenes" footage.
GLOW's intended demographic was consistent with that of its male counterpart: Aimed at children, it proved more than palatable to frat boys with hangovers. The athletes had quite the aesthetic range: Some resembled aerobics instructors and others gave off a heavyweight flamboyance—like Mt. Fiji, a Samoan shot putter who had qualified for the 1980 Olympics. Yet GLOW was originally cast through an open call for actresses in Los Angeles, none of whom was warned about the physically damaging project. Those who made it through screen tests were coached by Mondo Guerrero, an imposing member of a wrestling family dynasty. He was rumored to have once choke-held an actress into submission during rehearsal.
Even after a successful four-season run and an energized tour of the era's talk-show circuit, GLOW was canceled when primary financial backer Meshulam Riklis pulled his funding (as the result of a rumored ultimatum from his then-wife, Pia Zadora).
But there's little focus on the show's end. Between warm but blunt recollections from cast and crew, and bountiful clips of in-ring antics, the film proves nearly as authentic as the show that produced it, which wrestler MTV describes as Daniel Day-Lewis-like: "We had to call each other by our character names."
Critic's Grade: B
SEE IT: GLOW: The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling plays at the Hollywood Theatre. 7 pm Saturday-Sunday, Jan. 5-6.