This Week: That’s What I Am (2011)
Tagline: “I’m A Teacher. I’m A Singer. I’m A Writer.”
WWE Superstar: Randy Orton
Also Starring: Ed Harris, Molly Parker, Amy Madigan
Synopsis: A coming-of-age story set in 1965 that follows 12-year-old Andy Nichol (Chase Ellison), a bright student who, like most kids his age, will do anything to avoid conflict for fear of suffering overwhelming ridicule and punishment from his junior high school peers. Everyone’s favorite teacher, Mr. Simon (Ed Harris), pairs Andy with the school’s biggest outcast and social pariah, Stanley, aka “Big G” (Alexander Walters), on a critical term project. Before long, Andy will learn that there was truly a method behind Mr. Simon’s madness as to why he teamed these two up. (via IMDB)
Watch It: Netflix / Amazon / YouTube
What do you get when you cast two legitimate Academy Award nominees alongside a guy who (allegedly) once took a sh*t in a female wrestler’s duffel bag? You get That’s What I Am, a dramedy set in 1965 that stars real-life couple Ed Harris (Apollo 13) and Amy Madigan (Twice In A Lifetime), who have five Oscar nominations between them, and co-stars Randy Orton, who has zero Oscar nominations (but a number of tribal tattoos, so it evens out).
That’s What I Am is guided through its near-two-hour runtime by the uncredited voice of Greg Kinnear (who also has an Oscar nomination, even though he sucks), who narrates the story of his 8th grade self, Andy Nichol (played by The Young And The Restless‘ Chase Ellison), as he is forced into a student project with a redheaded stringbean named Stanley, who the whole class calls Big G (no relation to Big E). Big G, short for Big Ginger, is mercilessly mocked and picked on by his classmates, but Mr. Simon (Harris), the teacher, sees something in him and in Andy, so he pairs them up against their will. That’s right, this is gonna be a tag team match, playa.
It’s at this point that the movie goes from being merely a ripoff of The Wonder Years to being a bizarre anti-bullying film with a side story that I definitely did not see coming. First off, another 8th grader named Carl runs into the nerdy girl and decides that he has cooties, which apparently 8th graders still consider a serious malady, so he beats the girl up. Like, draws blood and everything.
The pint-sized bully rightfully gets in trouble with Mr. Simon for assaulting the girl, but then to get back at his teacher, Carl begins spreading a rumor that Mr. Simon is a “homo” — and this is where Randy Orton comes in. Orton plays the role of Ed, Carl’s father, who believes his son and is very concerned that a “homo” is his teacher. He confronts the school’s principal, Mrs. Kelner (Madigan), about the potential of his son’s teacher being gay, and in his big line, threatens to go to the papers if he has to:
Now, I wasn’t alive in the 1960s, and I know the gay community didn’t have nearly the acceptance that it does now, but this movie is also set in southern California, which is a pretty liberal state, so I have somewhat of a hard time believing that this would have actually been a big deal. Then again, the trailer for this movie says it was “inspired by true events,” so maybe this is the true event from which it drew inspiration? (It’s either that or the cooties-beatdown thing, probably.)
Principal Kelner talks to Mr. Simon and tells him to deny the rumors. Simon refuses to discuss his sexual preference and is confused as to why it matters, as he says his teaching record should speak for itself. Kelner then goes to Randy Orton’s house to defend him, and as Orton candidly discusses how morally wrong it is to have a homosexual in charge of children, I gotta tell you, it does not feel like Randy Orton is playing a character at all here. It literally feels like he is giving his honest opinions and the camera was accidentally left rolling. I am legit uncomfortable watching this scene. I guess that’s good acting?
The entire time this story is playing out, we also get a remarkably odd 8th grade romance story between Andy and a girl named Mary (Mia Rose Frampton, aka the real-life daughter of Peter Frampton), who apparently has already been with every boy in her class except Andy, so by process of elimination she is willing to go steady with him before the end of the school year. Love is in the air! Eventually, the two kiss for the first time, and Mary times him with a stopwatch because apparently she keeps records of how long each boy in her class can kiss. Totally normal behavior.
Right before their big makeout session, Andy goes to the school’s talent show to watch Big G perform an original song in front of an audience that doesn’t like him. Think the talent show scene in Napoleon Dynamite, set 40 years earlier. The school bully brings a tomato to chuck at Big G, and Andy ends up punting the bully in the dick to stop him from said attack. (I guarantee Randy Orton taught that kid how to do that.)
The movie begins to wrap up with Mr. Simon packing up his classroom and leaving the school which he loved so much just so he could dodge rumors of his sexuality (and presumably to avoid a draping DDT or an RKO outta nowhere). Andy rides his bike over to his house and spies a photo of him with his wife, which kind of deflates that whole storyline. But when Mr. Simon asks him if he wants to know more about his sexuality, Andy instead says all he wants to know is why he put him with Big G in the first place. The answer is typical teacher-speak: “You just need someone to tell you that you can.” Whatevs.
The movie concludes with Andy mowing the lawn and his dad yelling at him about how he’s not doing it right. Andy’s response: “I like to do it, I like to mow the lawn. I like to do it my way!” Credits roll.
So! We’ve reached the end. In Pro Wrestling Movie Club, we have three specific questions that must be asked at the conclusion of each film:
1. Is The Movie Objectively Any Good? That’s What I Am tries to be inspirational but doesn’t deliver anything in the way of true emotional catharsis, instead falling back on the occasional hackneyed joke. The movie’s heart seems to be in the right place, but it is a messy story that feels better suited for a made-for-TV movie on ABC Family. In short: Hard pass.
2. Are The WWE Superstars Any Good In It? I mean, maybe this is a backhanded compliment, but Randy Orton really nailed his role of “homophobic douchebag who happily discusses beating his son in front of his principal.”
3. Would I Be Embarrassed To Have A Friend Find A Copy In My Blu-Ray Collection? Oh yeah, but mainly because Greg Kinnear really, truly does suck. I mean, have you ever seen Nurse Betty? WOOF.
Next Week: I watch The Condemned, featuring “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in his first leading role.