Not every documentary can necessarily be believed. By their very nature, a documentary claims a certain amount of nonfiction status, but claiming that status and actually being nonfiction are two wholly different things.
It would not surprise me in any way to find out in six months or a year, or at any point really, that the entirety of the documentary “You Cannot Kill David Arquette” was staged. The movie is a weird, upsetting, disorienting experience and forces one to shake their head. That isn’t to say that the movie isn’t gripping—it absolutely is—but it’s the sort of thing that you watch and just wonder if it’s a put on.
Back when he was promoting a movie called “Ready to Rumble,” David Arquette did some work with the WCW (a professional wrestling organization). This was in 2000 and he won the World Heavyweight Champion belt at the time. People had some difficulty\ accepting this, the documentary explains, because even though wrestling is staged (but still exceptionally demanding on an athletic level), and therefore anyone whom the powers that be want to be the champion gets to be champion, Arquette hadn’t come up in the sport, hadn’t paid his dues, hadn’t really done the work to become the champ.
Fast forward to the making of this movie in 2018/2019, and we quickly see Arquette lamenting his lack of a movie career due in no small part (as he sees it) to his time as a wrestler. So, he decides to start wrestling again, but this time taking it more seriously – trying to earn his spot as opposed to having it handed to him.
This is the first moment in the David Darg and Price James directed movie that causes one to stop short. That leap isn’t a logical one – wrestling ruined his career and therefore he wants to wrestle more.
In a defining characteristic of “You Cannot Kill David Arquette,” and potentially David Arquette himself as he is presented in the documentary, the movie doesn’t stop to think or explain this inconsistency. Instead, it barrels forward with Arquette trying to reenter wrestling, getting sober, and getting told by doctors that he should not wrestle for reasons including him being on blood thinners.
Much of the movie then traces Arquette’s attempts to gain respectability as a wrestler. We see him backyard wrestle. We see him street wrestle. We see him build a new wrestling career and hear how he’s lost weight and stopped smoking and everything is going great. We see his family go from thinking he’s nuts to being proud of him. There’s even a montage.
That is actually all pretty believable. However, at some point, Darg and James seem to run out of interest in Arquette and the story. After suffering an injury (and following the death of his friend, Luke Perry), Arquette starts drinking again. He stops training. Everything begins to fall apart.
That is, it does until it doesn’t.
Again without presenting much of a logical reason, things just suddenly improve. Arquette gets back on the wagon and starts working towards his goal again. While motivation is provided for the slip, there is none offered about the turnaround. It just happens. We know from the credits that there are scenes on the cutting room floor. The movie is only 90 minutes, so it isn’t a lack of space that causes this oversight.
Perhaps the answer is as easy as “Arquette seems to rarely take himself seriously, so the movie doesn’t bother either.” That isn’t a particularly satisfying explanation, but it’s one that fits. The title card for the movie is comical and the whole thing actually starts with a professional wrestler pretending that he hates Arquette.
All of this undermines the good work the movie does. Professional wrestling, as the film and Arquette note, may have choreographed moves and stories, but is an undeniably athletic pursuit. The piece is compelling when it shows Arquette learning techniques with lucha libre wrestlers. In fact, a move they teach him is one that he repeatedly comes back to during his matches and that helps cement the notion that this man is really trying to learn something and be good at this sport.
In the end, as completely compelling as some moments are, as utterly terrifying as some of them are, as off the wall weird as some of them are, I cannot say that I have much more of an idea of who Arquette is now than before I watched the movie. If what we see is true, he’s as serious about wrestling as he is anything else.
How serious is that? It’s up for debate.
As for the question of whether or not what we see is true, if forced—if the choice was to give an answer or get an elbow from the top rope—I’d say that it was. Still, I’d rather not be put in the position of having to make the call.
photo credit: Super LTD