ONE OF THE MANY bedazzled blips on the cultural radar of the 1980s, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW) might be residing in the far corner of your memory. Modeled after the men's pro-wrestling shows popular with the shirtless, beer-drinking, late-night set, GLOW pitted characters like "Hollywood" and "Ninotchka" against each other in the ring for outsized ridiculousness that was fundamentally theatrical, with the occasional intrusion of serious injury, and some of the most awkward rapping in recorded history. Wildly popular, the show was nonetheless short lived, and its stars scattered off into relative obscurity. Brett Whitcomb's documentary GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling tracks them down for the inside scoop on what the GLOW life was like and where they are now, resulting in a fun, lightly emotional ride through bizarro world.
Even if you missed the televised era of GLOW, Whitcomb's plethora of the old clips is a crash course in an experiment that, unsurprisingly, was tinged with darkness. A group of aspiring actresses showed up to an audition knowing nothing about the project, and those chosen were thrown into a boot camp, in which one of the actresses was supposedly put in a chokehold until she started crying. Veritable prisoners to their contracts, the women were only allowed to address each other as their characters, were penalized for staying out late, and encouraged to throw themselves in harm's way for the sake of outlandishness.
Nonetheless, the women Whitcomb contacts and reunites are fundamentally shaped by the experience and recall it fondly. None went on to enjoy particular success in their acting careers, and there's a mildly depressing whiff to their reminiscences. Most notably is Mountain Fiji, a heavyweight Samoan who Whitcomb discovers is now bedridden with obesity-related health problems. (Several of the alums are also in wheelchairs.) That sadness grounds the film with just enough emotional weight for the film to feel well rounded and complete, but by and large the film is a bite-sized and uncomplicated glimpse at a wacky, lost chapter of American television.