You Cannot Kill David Arquette: A redemptive love letter to pro wrestling

The directors of this new film told us about the similarities between wrestling and documentary filmmaking.

If, like me, you remain dimly aware that David Arquette once briefly took the wrestling world by storm some 20 years ago, it becomes very easy to imagine what kind of movie You Cannot Kill David Arquette might be. Ostensibly a movie about a somewhat washed-up actor in his late 40s deciding to train as a pro wrestler to obtain honours that he never could obtain when he became the gimmicky World Champion (ostensibly to promote the 2000 WCW comedy Ready to Rumble), the throughlines of You Cannot Kill David Arquette resemble self-aware documentaries / mockumentaries like I’m Still Here and Pauly Shore Is Dead

The very concept of Deputy Dewey from Scream taking a sharp turn into wrestling at this point in his career (mainly, it seems, to exorcise the demons that have come from nearly 20 years of wrestling fans spitting his name out with contempt) is automatically fraught with a certain base level of irony — whether it comes from a perceived delusion or the absurdity of the imagery.

It’s true that You Cannot Kill David Arquette indulges in some of that irony, especially early on as an out-of-shape Arquette, in a long flowing cape, shows up to a backyard wrestling event run by men in their early 20s and gets his ass kicked. What’s doubly true is that the film makes a clear parallel between professional wrestling and documentary filmmaking. Both are manipulations of the truth – both contain things that are real, presented within a framework that presents itself as the objective truth, but both are also tied to a format that audiences know can reframe and manipulate in order to tell stories. Price James and David Darg’s You Cannot Kill David Arquette, in other words, is a documentary pitched with the tone and volume of professional wrestling.

“It was shot as an observational doc,” explains James. “Definitely the execution of editorial was heavily leaning into the genre of sports action movies. That’s something that me and Darg were really interested in: the layers of how wrestling is theatrical but creates real emotion, and how to put the viewer in that mindset. The backstory with David is very much from his perspective, but we liked the idea of playing with genre and tropes as well as having the human story.”

“The power of I’m Still Here is that you’d watch this film and everyone had questions after,” says Darg. “You almost felt angry — what did I just watch?! (laughs) We didn’t want our viewers to feel angry, but we wanted to leave them with a lot of questions. That’s what wrestling does, you know? Wrestling is a conversation beyond the mat. We had fun. We were dealing with the very real story of David on a very real journey. For us to be able to blur the lines and create a film that leaves viewers with questions was very fun for us.”

There is, of course, a certain level of trust required even in the most ironic version imaginable of You Cannot Kill David Arquette. As it turns out, the Arquettes (the film was produced by Arquette’s wife Christina McLarty Arquette) already had a relationship with James and Darg.

“I’ve known the Arquettes for almost 10 years,” says Darg. “We met them in Haiti after the earthquake there, doing humanitarian work. David was familiar with our work in documentary, and he had this idea to do this project and go on this quest for redemption. He had the foresight of knowing that it would probably make a great documentary, so he came to Price and I and said, ‘I want to do this thing!’ At the time, he mostly wanted to do a very straightforward love letter to wrestling and matter-of-factly document this journey. Price and I were the ones who helped him realize that we had to dig deeper than that, strip back a few layers and explore some of the deeper, darker sides of his personal life and the reasons he was on the journey in the first place. We took it from a more matter-of-fact place to a more interesting exploration into the ins-and-outs of it all.”

Everything in You Cannot Kill David Arquette stems from Arquette’s deep and unabiding love for wrestling — even his controversial title win in 2000. Arquette was reportedly very much against the idea of him winning the belt at the time out of respect for the fans. Even I, as a fledgling fly-by-night wrestling fan for a couple of years in my early teens, remember the outcry at the time. It never struck me as particularly outrageous at the time, but it seems to have been particularly hard on Arquette, who shared the exact same love for the sport as the people telling him he should be ashamed. 

“Whether you were affected by the story of an actor coming into a theatrical world and being ostracized by the fans, the fact is that David is at his core a sensitive artist,” says James. “He’s kind of a Renaissance man and he’s felt these feelings for 20 years. No one really wants that in their lives, that kind of vitriol and anger. He wanted a real-life redemption and to make amends. We hoped for what we achieved — we had other options — but we were very grateful to capture this.” ■

You Cannot Kill David Arquette screens online as part of the Fantasia Film Festival on Monday, Aug. 24, 7:30 p.m.

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