“Andre the Giant” is a well-meaning but milquetoast doc that only occasionally delivers the body slam of emotion. Talking head interviews with wrestling icons, famous actors and family friends attempt to cut beneath Andre’s gargantuan surface. But by the end, we’re left with more myth than man.
It’s a frustrating but expected viewing experience, as much of Andre’s existence was dedicated to making him seem larger than life. Nobody remembers exactly how tall he was, with WWE head Vince McMahon stating that he was definitely over 7′ but not sure if it was 7’4”. Few people could even comprehend what he was saying, with “The Princess Bride” director Rob Reiner stating he was sensitive at the heart but hard to understand from the mouth. And when it comes to the women he loved throughout his life, Hulk Hogan isn’t able to speak about any specific relationships or lovers Andre had, except that “women adored him.”
But “Andre the Giant” is effective in establishing just how massive an impact the wrestler had on his sport. We get a strong sense of just how far he traveled to reach fans and the immense, grueling physicality he had to show on a nightly basis. In the efforts to chronicle Andre’s life, the documentary almost serves as a biography of the WWE itself, a detailed depiction of how all these minor wrestling outfits meshed together into a national presence, with the French giant proudly waving an American flag as their unofficial mascot.
“Andre the Giant” does succeed with detailing the emotional tribulations the wrestler went through because of his size, making him a perennial outcast anytime he wasn’t in the ring. When the doc visits a North Carolina farm where Andre lived, we’re met with the wrestler’s brutal paradox of being loved around the world but wanting to hide in a nondescript corner of it. These moments are touching, but are delivered to us through talking head interviews and archival footage, with no input from the giant himself.
It’s hard to criticize a documentary about “Andre the Giant” for not featuring more footage of the wrestler acting normal or talking about his emotions. It’s not that people didn’t care if Andre was sad, the fact that so many interviewees are on the verge of tears when talking about him only supports the idea of Andre as an empathetic person. The tragedy, though, is that Andre knew that his size and success were the cause of his internal and emotional problems. It’s hard to complain about what’s troubling you if it’s the same thing that’s simultaneously making you happy.
But “Andre the Giant” still makes good use of its subject’s mythological status to deliver a documentary that’s entertaining while not completely revealing. We get a sense of Andre’s place in this make-believe sports world, how it wasn’t just an extra foot of height and some extra 200 pounds that transformed him into a legend, but an endearing kindness and will to succeed. That’s at least the story that these testimonies want you to believe, but based on what little else we know about “Andre the Giant,” we have no reason to not trust them.