When I received word that I would be reviewing a movie called, “Wrestle,” I assumed it was going to be yet another look into the tragic, drug-addled world of professional wrestlers. Instead what I was treated to was the life of struggling teens from Huntsville Alabama using their talents in amateur wrestling to escaped becoming another statistic.
This heartsy documentary by directors Suzannah Herbert and Lauren Belfer specifically follow the lives of three African American teenagers: Jailen Young, Jamario Rowe, Jacquan Rhodes, And their Caucasian teammate, Teague Berrers. All who (with maybe the exception of grappling prodigy Jailen) are fighting an uphill battle just to stay in school.
Even with the help of their young coach (Chris Scribner) taking an active “father-figure” role in the kids’ lives, he learns quickly that competing isn’t enough to counteract what’s going on at home. There’s a point in the movie where the kids joke about “Scrib’s” role in their lives as coach, dad, police officer, teacher, taxi, and grammar nazi. And though his intentions are good, there is a point where he realizes that he might have bitten off more than he could chew with this job.
“…using their talents in amateur wrestling to escaped becoming another statistic.”
Jamario Rowe is a classic example of this. He’s far and away the biggest talent on the team, yet, he also the most troubled emotionally. Add to that, he’s expecting a child with his live-in, teenage girlfriend. Teague, who out of the four isn’t the most talented, has an even bigger hill to climb. He’s on multiple types of medication for mental disorders but refuses to take his pills because of how they make him perform on the mat. And the consequence being, his erratic behavior is leading him down a path of eventual arrest… or worst. Yet in spite all of the trouble, the team makes it to the finals of their division. And though not all of them win, you can see hope start to finally creep in.
The hardest part of watching this film is seeing how much the odds are stacked against these kids. None of them have a father in their life. They all have mothers who are working and on welfare just to keep them fed. They have to deal with racist police officers on a regular basis, and a fear that they can end up the next “hashtag” on Twitter. In fact, there is a scene in the film where there is an altercation between Jailen and a patrolman where I question if the cameras weren’t around, would the cop have been as “behaved” as he was.
“…honest look at the more poverty torn cities in our country, and the children who have to fight twice as hard…”
J.O Johnson high school, where the film takes place, was on the federal failing list for years before the city finally shut it down in 2016 and replaced by a training camp for new police officers. Maybe this is symbolic politically of where things are now with regards to the poor? Herbert and Belfer do a great job of balancing the screen time between all four young men so that their stories are fleshed out. And I want to give them even more credit for not shying away from the more “uncomfortable” scenes.
Wrestle will completely suck you in from beginning to end. It’s is a heartbreaking, yet honest look at the more poverty torn cities in our country, and the children who have to fight twice as hard just to escape them and make a life for themselves! Though we don’t know where Jailen, Jacquan, Teague, and Jamario are today, we at least see there were good seeds planted in them that hopefully have taken root.
Wrestle (2018) Directed by Suzannah Herbert and Lauren Belfer. Starring Jailen Young, Jamario Rowe, Teague Berrers, Jacquan Rhodes, and Chris Scribner.
8 out of 10