In a 180-degree turn from the gentle introspection of his docu “Kati With an I,” filmmaker Robert Greene gets in the ring with a group of struggling pro wrestlers in “Fake It So Real,” an affectionate portrait of an all-American subculture. The title is an apt one, suggesting that for all its staging and overt theatrics, independent (read: non-WWF) pro wrestling makes huge demands on the body and spirit. Sans distrib, the pic will earn fans on a city-by-city summer tour.
Taking place over a week leading up to a Saturday night match in Lincolnton, N.C., home base for the Millennium Wrestling Federation (MWF), the action is rather conventionally structured into day-by-day “chapters.” This familiar storytelling pattern, seen in so many docus about competitive events, does have some worthy payoff in this case, since the guys seen at the beginning of the week are quite different from their in-ring personae. Preparation, even in this supposedly fake entertainment, is everything.
A significant part of the film centers on young Gabriel Croft, an MWF rookie who’s on probation, and experiencing (offscreen) conflicts with his former fiancee. Sometimes resembling a fresh-scrubbed Matt Damon, Croft has worked out a wrestling character, the Angel Gabriel, which comes under much discussion by MWF founder David Hayes and the group’s dedicated manager, Jeff Roberts (who also has an in-ring character named Outlaw). Roberts is battling an infection that may keep him away from a match for the first time in a decade of wrestling.
In contrast with the single-minded focus of “Kati With an I,” Greene here tracks a somewhat unruly but fundamentally nice group of small-town guys. He displays a keen sense for spotting the interesting subjects in the bunch, including Chris Baldwin, whose “Chris Solar” moniker regularly sets off chants of “Solar is gay!” — one of several taunts that pepper the events and conversations Greene records. In the tradition of the Maysles brothers, Greene films without comment and leaves it to the viewer to draw conclusions; an underlying homophobia in a sport/show with pronounced homoerotic qualities leaves some interesting contradictions to consider.
The Saturday main event offers some real rewards, particularly when Croft impresses the vets with an act that leaves everything on the mat. Greene and Sean Price Williams’ vivid lensing trains the camera on the wrestlers’ faces during intense body slams, leaving no doubt they’re feeling real pain. At the same time, everyone inside and outside the ring has a ton of fun, making the long week of prep somehow all worth it, even it doesn’t come close to paying the rent.
Tech work suitably leans to the rough side, making for a strong viewing and listening experience.