TFF2015: Bodyslam: Revenge of the Banana!

The Banana, with the Second Banana, takes down opponents

          With a title like Bodyslam: Revenge of the Banana! and a focus on “semi-pro” wrestling, you could be forgiven for not expecting much emotion or pathos in John Paul Horstmann and Ryan Harvie’s documentary.  But that’s exactly what the fun, involving Bodyslam has in abundance. 

            The film focuses mainly on three individuals: Paul Richards, a.k.a. “The Banana,” Josh Black, a.k.a. “Ronald McFondle,” and Bill Bates, a.k.a. “Eddie Van Glam.”  All three are involved in the theatrical shenanigans of “Seattle Semi-Pro Wrestling” at downtown Seattle’s Rebar.  But while Josh and Bill are group mainstays and comprise part of each other’s adopted family, Paul is an outsider who carries some heartbreaking baggage. 

            He’s the neglected only son of a single drug and alcohol addicted mom, and he’s fought for everything he has, up to and including scouring the streets of Seattle for change to pay down his mortgage.  When he was a kid struggling with school bullies and his mom’s downward spiral, TV wrestling was his escape.  It’s hard not to feel for Paul, and to understand his awkwardness and reluctance to engage socially in a way the other wrestlers don’t.

            Josh and Bill are outsiders, too, but they’ve found an accepting adoptive family in the wrestling troupe, and their broad, outlandish stage personas allow them to overcome their inherent shyness.  The feeling of being “different” and seeking out a chosen family and the concept of self-actualization through theater are just a few of the themes Bodyslam conveys that will resonate with queer geeks.  In fact, Rebar is a historically gay bar with a now mixed crowd, and viewers get the sense some of the other wrestlers are probably gay; heck, Eddie appears in cheerleader drag at one point and Josh leads the crowd in a chant of “Anal fisting! Anal fisting!”—Ronald’s offensive move of choice.  (For the record, both are straight but very LGBT friendly dudes.)

            Paul never really fits in with the other guys, and when the SSP tell him they want to kill off his character “the Banana” he angrily leaves the troupe after one final performance.  He retaliates against this perceived backstabbing by reporting the SSP to the state regulatory board, which leads to the troupe being shut down for failure to adhere to wrestling guidelines.  Josh and co. are left in the bizarre, unenviable position of having to defend their act as anarchically bizarre performance art rather than actual sport.  

As the movie progressed, my sympathies shifted and I took a definite side in the Paul vs. SSP battle.  I won’t say which for fear of influencing your own interpretation of the film, but I’m willing to bet you’ll have a definite opinion, even if you never expected to enjoy or care about a “wrestling” film.  This entertaining and thoroughly absorbing flick is a gem, and it stands as an affirmation to freaks, geeks, and creative types everywhere.

Bodyslam: Revenge of the Banana! screens tomorrow, April 22 at 6pm at Regal Battery Park City as part of the Tribeca Film Festival. 

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Josh applies his "Ronald McFondle" makeup