I identify as a Christian. It’s very important that I stress this upfront because I do not want this review to sound like I’m bashing Christianity before I write another word. The story of Ted DiBiase’s redemption is a beautiful story and I hope to one day hear it told in a better way.
I identify as a Christian, but I also identify as a storyteller.
Simply put The Price of Fame is a poorly told story, which is a shame because it’s a very good story.
Above everything else, The Price of Fame is a tale about God and Christianity. It doesn’t shy away from this – the problem is that it sacrifices story to stress its message. This is a problem that I see almost any time that I watch a Christian film.
Ted DiBiase was (and will always be) one of the greatest heels in wrestling. The Million Dollar Man was so cruel and pompous that it became extremely easy to despise him (specifically when you were a kid). As an adult seeing the wizard behind the curtain, it’d be pretty much impossible not to love him as well. Few people were better at living the gimmick (for better or worse) and the art of method acting bleeds itself into every moment of DiBiase’s life on or off the camera.
All of this lead to DiBiase living a life full of sin. The sorrow of losing his father when he was 15 (his famous father Iron Mike DiBaise died of a heart attack in the ring) and a sudden wrestling explosion in 1987 lead to a life of drugs, alcohol and sex. All of this while he had a wife and three boys back at home.
The film is less about DiBiase’s wrestling career and more about his family life now that he’s found God and how that change in him extended to many of his friends (including but not limited to George “The Animal” Steele and Shawn Michaels). This is where the problem in the film’s pace occurs.
When there are wrestlers on screen, it’s beautiful and it’s real and it’s touching. Hearing the testimonies of these men are powerful and they set a beautiful tone. Shawn Michael’s story is particularly compelling. This is no surprise as Shawn Michaels is one of the most genuine voices in professional wrestling.
The problem is that these moments of real sincerity are broken by moments with the DiBiase family. It’d be unfair to say the moments feel insincere, because I believe the emotions and stories are genuine, but they feel like re-enactments of moments that already happened. It’s specifically rough with Ted DiBaise Jr. and his younger brother Brett. Ted over-acts his emotions, Brett suddenly changes from anger to forgiveness in a matter of minutes – it all just feels like a bad reality show.
Unfortunately, Ted Jr. is our guide for most of the movie, so these moments are far more frequent than any interview with the wrestlers. There are regular moments where Ted Jr. will sit down with someone and interview them and these moments will be followed with a talking head segment of Ted Jr. summarizing the interview we just saw with no real new information.
This is a documentary about redemption and it reminds us of this every step of the way. This is the ultimate flaw of the storytelling. Whenever it breaks down Ted’s debauchery in the 80’s, it immediately reminds us that he’s a changed man. It robs the documentary of any real pay off.
If I could re-edit this movie, I would tell DiBiase’s story. Linger on the drugs, linger on the back-stage stories, linger on the affairs… make that audience feel that feeling of complete and utter hopelessness and then from there build up the way the God changed and transformed his life.
Instead we end up with a film that wants to preach redemption without ever connecting with its audience in a genuine way. The screening I attended concluded with a 15 minute conversation between Ted DiBaise and Shawn Michaels which only further highlighted what this film could have been. Their conversation was interesting and charming and fun, while still being able to tab into both men’s perspective and feelings on faith.
I did not hate this movie, in fact there are things I very much loved. DiBaise standing at his father’s grave having a late night conversation specifically sticks out in my mind as a truly genuine and powerful moment. The film was simply not the movie that I wanted to see. I wanted a film about the dark side of wrestling and one man’s redemption from all of it. Instead I got a 90 minute sermon wrapped in a family drama that occasionally mentioned wrestling.
If you are a Christian, you will love everything this movie has to say. If you’re an atheist, this movie will not be converting you. If you’re a wrestling fan this film will leave you wanting more.
Maybe I’m just salty because my all time favorite wrestler I.R.S. (DiBaise’s old tag partner) never appears in any form outside of archival footage. Absolute travesty.