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A technically polished but mostly unmoving example of a genre (the watch-kids-do-something-hard doc) assumed to be inherently charming, Josh Greenbaum‘s The Short Game introduces us to eight children who travel to Pinehurst, North Carolina, to compete in the World Championship of Junior Golf. Lacking much drama for those who aren’t pretty ardent fans of the sport, and finding characters who are only mildly interesting compared to some we’ve met in similar films, the doc has limited commercial prospects and completely lacks the sociopolitical content that has led fest audiences to champion some scrappier child-centric docs.
Moviegoers inclined to believe the documentary world has relied too heavily on this kids-plus-dreams-equals-crowdpleaser formula will find further evidence of exploitation here, as a number of this film’s subjects have parents pushy enough to be granted honorary membership in the sorority of stage moms. One father has been telling his daughter “You’re the best golfer in the world” since she was 3 years old. What he might describe as positive visualization, many others would call brainwashing. A mother, taking her son to task between holes for his unspectacular performance, makes him cry. A single dad, from what we see, appears to have no reason to live beyond his daughter’s swing.
Not all the kids here are saddled with suffocating or achievement-obsessed parents. Zana, a chubby and cheerful 8-year-old from Johannesburg, appears to be well adjusted; Jed, from Manila, seems to use success on the green as a means of balancing autism’s tendency to make him an outcast. But Allan, a shaggy blond with dollar signs in his eyes who imagines building a golf resort that’s “a huge facility … gonna be marble …” sounds like he’s chosen Donald Trump (whose face adorns his bottled water) as a role model.
After introducing the cast of characters, Greenbaum settles into observing the three-day tournament. Though fortunes rise and fall during the film’s second half (a sportscaster-like narrator chronicles the players’ shifting rankings), sporting drama is pretty sparse here; viewers will be left to focus on how parents help their kids deal with the stress or, as they often do, add to it. “There is no Plan B,” says one dad who imagines nothing less than global superstardom for his child; the film offers no clue whether it thinks this is a parenting strategy worth endorsing.
Production Company: Delirio Films
Director: Josh Greenbaum
Producers: Josh Greenbaum, Rafael Marmor, Christopher Leggett
Executive producers: Jessica Biel, Justin Timberlake, Timm Oberwelland, John Battsek, David Frankel
Music: Mark Mothersbaugh
Editor: Billy McMillin
PG, 100 minutes
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