For all their amazing feats, athletes, even those of ferocious
competitiveness and incredible and finely honed individual skill,
sometimes evince a lack of joy, perhaps because their profession is
dictated to some degree by body shape and size, pedigree, or simply the
fact that it was drummed into their head long ago that their self-worth
was entirely tied to this game or that. For me, that’s why amateur
sports — particularly something like college basketball, where rivalries
often span generations — possess such a special allure. There’s an
innately human joy in bearing witness to someone doing something they
truly and deeply love, no matter the money, and also do it well — especially if they’re a youngster. And that joy is on ample display in
Make Believe: The Battle to Become the World’s Best Teen Magician, a
superlative new documentary that absolutely radiates a positive energy.
Of a piece with 2003’s Spellbound and 2007’s The Kong of King: A Fistful of Quarters (no surprise, since it’s executive produced by Seth Gordon, the man behind that hit documentary), Make Believe puts a death grip on one’s attention not because of any grand understanding about the allure of magic that it imparts, but because these are bright if somewhat differently focused kids with a depth of insight and a remarkable amount of self-awareness. Ergo, it’s rewarding to listen to them talk about their interest in magic, and how it makes them feel.
As with any number of other comfortable, more conventional teen narrative features, the dramatic arc here tracks a few months of practice leading up to a contest — in this case the teen-classification finals of the prestigious World Magic Seminar in Las Vegas, sponsored and endorsed by various organizational bodies and world-famous magician Lance Burton. Of the five subjects on which the film focuses (one is actually a pair, from South Africa), there’s not a rotten apple in the bunch, including 14-year-old Colorado native Derek McKee (above).
The winner of the Best Documentary Prize at last year’s Los Angeles Film Festival, Make
Believe could be more comprehensive and detailed with regards to its putative subject of inquiry, certainly. Still, watching the movie, one’s heart sings, caught up as it is in the dreams and aspirations of these talented kids. It’s a reminder, too — removed from the harsh glare of peer judgment — that all the kids with the quirkier interests and hobbies in high school were probably actually the coolest at the time, and stand a far better chance today of making their own unique way in the world as adults. For the full, original review, from ShockYa, click here. (Level 22/Firefly, unrated, 91 minutes)