In 2002, professional wrestling had a lot more pop culture significance than it does today. As a result, thousands of teenagers around the country wrestled anywhere they could, in an attempt to become just like the legends they watched on television every week. That’s not to say that the backyard wrestling federations Paul Hough finds all over the country and England in his documentary “The Backyard” aren’t prevalent today. There were just many more of them then than there are now. That being said, Hough’s journey across the country to the pits of wannabe wrestling promotions is a scary, yet darkly humorous and surreal world you won’t believe is real.
Sadly, it is.
At times, it’ll be impossible not to laugh at the absurdity of some of the characters Hough discovers over the course of this documentary. Blinded by their hopes of professional wrestling super-stardom, they are completely void of logic and reality. Even worse, many of the people Hough encounters have families and people that depend on them, but in a most selfish, egotistical way, they remain focused on the accomplishment of their dreams.
Dreams, which unfortunately, will never come true.
Because of this, there are times in this documentary that will make you want to cry. One character in particular, The Lizard, is so lost that in spite of traveling across the country and wrestling in several small promotions, he’s no closer to accomplishing his real goals than he was before. The fact that he’s nearing 30, when many of his opponents are half his age or nearing 20 doesn’t seem to faze him either. A tour of his home reveals an obsession with professional wrestling that is second to none, with action figures, video tapes and various other forms of tchotchke all over his already dilapidated home.
Think of the TV show “Hoarders,” just with wrestling memorabilia and filth.
It’s moments like this that take the documentary past the hokey, carnival-like world of backyard wrestling and make it a compelling drama that can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of his or her affinity for the “sport.”
The few segments with professional wrestling legend Rob Van Dam do an excellent job of showing the viewer what these backyard wrestler aspire to be like. To see Van Dam in his home discussing his intense training regimen makes it quickly obvious that people like The Lizard, have it all wrong.
The fact that people like him continue to lie to themselves makes their story one that will continue to occur over and over.
However, while this won’t be the last occurrence of sad saps devoting their minds, bodies and souls to hopes that they’ll never be able to catch, the look inside of the world Hough provides is gritty, honest and free of fluff.