Doc of the Day: Make Believe Review - Dan Schindel

Doc of the Day: Make Believe

Posted in Days of Docs, Reviews by - September 06, 2012

Would you like to see a magic trick? Good, because these kids have got plenty of ’em.

Dir. J. Clay Tweel, 2011, 88 min, Viewed via Netflix Instant

At what point did magic become cool? Was it because of one of those douchey Vegas guys? Or Neil Patrick Harris (who’s in this movie, by the way (albeit far too little))? Or something else I’m not aware of? Make Believe is all about teens who are already quite adept at legerdemain, theatricality, and otherwise tricking an audience into believing that they can perform the impossible. And it’s cool. Not the way I recall things growing up…

Anyway, the doc follows six young people seeking to compete in the World Magic Seminar, an annual magic competition in Las Vegas. They hail from all over the world, from America to Japan to South Africa. All of them are united in their love of sleight-of-hand and astounding their uncomprehending onlookers. But only one will be crowned winner at the WMS.

Yep, it’s another competition movie. But this one’s good! We get to know each of these kids, and different viewers will probably find a different person to root for. My personal favorite was Hiroki Hara, who can do some absolutely crazy stuff with cards. Although I must also confess a partiality to Krystyn Lambert, a girl who’s trying to make it in a field where women are generally props and not performers. And Nkumbuzo Nkonyana and Siphiwe Fangase, the African visitors, are utterly endearing. But really, all of the characters are likable and varied in their personalities and styles. They’ve all walked different paths, and all “deserve” to win.

This film has a good deal of that childish glee that magic invokes. Every minute, someone is doing some crazy thing with a playing card, streamer, hoop, or whatever that will make you go, “Wait, what just happened?! That’s crazy, how did they do that?!” There’s minimal “inside baseball” explanations of how the tricks work (Which I like, because I prefer not to know the secrets. Otherwise, where’s the, well, magic?), but the movie does make clear that getting this good at the craft requires long, long hours of practice. It’s pretty inspiring to see these kids already so far into their “10,000 hours.”

Make Believe is a cute movie about honing a skill, viewed through the prism of youth and competition. There’s no great insight into the world of magic, but that’s no big disappointment. It’s nicely entertaining and suspenseful in equal measure. I don’t think it hits the highs of the truly great youth competition docs like Resolved or Spellbound, but that’s far from a damning comparison. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry (not really), and you’ll go “how did they do that?!”

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Dan Schindel loves movies more than you do.

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