Streaming Releases: Ballerina I'm Not (2017) - Reviewed

The lifestyle of a professional wrestler is a story that has been told several times now in both documentary and film form. As long as there are fervent wrestling fans, there will always be a market for stories about individual wrestlers, a history of the business, its culture, and the physical and mental demands on its performers. After such excellent wrestling documentaries like Beyond the Mat, Hitman Hart: Wresting with Shadows, and Dynamite Kid: A Matter of Pride, it’s hard to improve upon what they have already done. That’s not even including Darren Aronofsky’s fantastic depiction of the wrestling culture in The Wrestler. All of these took fans behind the curtain; so to speak, shedding light on what had been a secret world and lifestyle few actually knew about beyond what they saw inside of the ring.

Francesca Zappitelli’s new documentary Ballerina I’m Not attempts to serve as an underdog story, of how women like herself struggle to achieve their dreams in the male dominated world of pro wrestling and the professional fight industry. With the recent popularity and critical acclaim of the Netflix series GLOW, coupled by the re-branding of the WWE’s Women’s Division (moving away from the term Diva and focusing more on their wrestling skills) now seems like the perfect time to release a documentary devoted to the women in the sport. While there are several moments in this that are definitely worth watching, the problem lies in the feeling that major portions of this were completely scripted to provide an upbeat conclusion. The audience ends up being spoon fed the classic wrestling tale of the “Heel” and the “Face,” with the good guy eventually triumphing over the bad guy. It felt too manufactured. 

The story is mainly about Zappitelli and her pursuit of a wrestling career and whatever else that she feels motivated to take on. Along the way, we are provided a brief history of women in wrestling and some of the true female icons throughout the years. We are also introduced to several other female wrestlers and people in the industry, as well as individuals involved in Mixed Martial Arts. Specifically, there are interviews and footage from Shelly Martinez, Christi Ricci, Stacey Keibler, Maria Kanellis, Gail Kim, Ken Yasuda, Tom Howard, and Herb Dean. They all shed light on their personal experiences and the difficulties that women face in the industry. The documentary also combines a number of different types of footage, which include photos, stock footage, interviews, and wrestling footage from independent federations in America, Mexico, and Japan. 

It should be noted, and most likely observed upon viewing this documentary, that there are some serious questions regarding the legitimacy of Zappitelli’s wrestling career. Yes, she did train as a professional wrestler, but only had one dark match for the WWE. They show her traveling around and training for various promotions, but most of the actual wrestling footage doesn’t necessarily include her. Upon researching, a large amount of her wrestling appears to be on the internet in bikinis or completely nude, what they labeled on the documentary as a “catfight.” It also doesn’t mention her career in hardcore pornography, under the name Bella-Marie Wolf. 

I’ve read several reviews that have descried Ballerina I’m Not as “inspirational” and “exhilarating” and I suppose for some viewers it could be. It may be seen as an inspirational story since Zappitelli continues to stay positive and upbeat during her failures, picking herself up and moving forward. For others, like myself, this is a story that’s already been told and in a far more effective way by other pro wrestling documentaries. Currently available on VOD from Amazon, Ballerina I’m Not is worthy of a one-time viewing from indie wrestling fans, but it is not of those rare gems that will be remembered over time.

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