Wow, WWE Films went really highbrow with their latest movie. That’s Wha I Am is a 1965 coming of age dramedy about prejudice. The only wrestler in it plays a hateful bigot who illustrates a harsh reality, not an action hero.
It opens with Mr. Simon (Ed Harris) reading “Joan of Arc” to his eighth grade class! He assigns Andy Nichol (Chase Ellison) a project with Big G (Alexander Walters) to teach him about tolerance. Big G (real name Stanley) teaches Andy a lesson right away about pacifism by refusing to retaliate against bullies, despite his own strength.
That’s What I Am has the tone of A Christmas Story, or maybe the first season of “The Wonder Years” before it got all Vietnam-y. It’s obviously younger than Stand By Me, but a kids movie you can watch at any age. There’s a sincere intensity to the kids’ problems and they have names like nobody I ever grew up with. Bruce Modak (Brett Lapeyrose), Jason Freel (Camille E. Bourgeois III), Norman Gunmeyer (Daniel Yelsky), Jimmy Tadlock (Sean Michael Cunningham)… honestly, this narrator is making that up.
Bullying and self-preservation is their life, not in a self-important way but it’s just necessary for now. At the same time there are fears of cooties, Jason Freel goes to the awful extreme of whipping social outcast Karen Connor (Sarah Celano). That’s an accurate portrayal of kids, a little bit whimsical with the capacity for horror.
Eventually, students start a rumor that Mr. Simon is gay, only this is 1965 so they keep calling him a “homo.” Jason tells his parents, and his dad Ed (Randy Orton) leads a charge to get Simon fired. This is also handled sensitively, with supportive characters like the school principal and fearful ignorant parents. Even Andy’s dad isn’t quite educated enough to tolerate gays in 1965.
It gets heavy. Andy has to answer questions like “Did you ever see Mr. Simon touch anyone?” So children are forced to see how intolerant life can be and choose their own path. Simon is teaching his students about human dignity and compassion, so this is the WWE’s take on Gandhi!
The story is also heartwarming with Andy trying to go steady with Mary Clear (Mia Rose Frampton). It’s truly touching, which is something I could not say about 12 Rounds or The Condemned.
The important message of the title, That’s What I Am, means to find what you are and be that. It’s not even a Hollywood fantasy about being an amazing talent, rather just the act of doing it is what defines you. That’s deep, WWE.