Florida Film Festival review: ‘Top Spin’


  • Sara Newens

As an amateur ping-pong player, I didn’t need Top Spin (3 stars on our 0-5 scale) to tell me that the sport is perceived as a bit of a joke in this country. But it was still refreshing to hear Americans talk about their love for the game and see, in edge-of-your-seat cinematography, just how beautiful, stressful and even lonely table tennis can be.

But, as with countless other sports documentaries, you need not love the sport to appreciate the sacrifices its participants make in pursuit of their dream. Case in point: Michael, Ariel and Lily, three high school students struggling to balance their personal lives with their athletic passion while inching toward their ultimate goal: the 2012 London Olympics.

Though the three teenagers’ struggles are emotionally moving, their personal battles seem just a bit too much like First World problems to create heartrending empathy. Top Spin, directed by Sara Newens and Mina Son, is better, therefore, when it focuses less on its interviews (only some of which are effective), turns down its overactive musical score and concentrates on the sport itself. And once it starts to do that – by immersing you in the drama of back-spinners, choppers and top-spinners all ferociously battling for just three North American Olympic slots – don’t be surprised if you end up more emotionally involved than you expected.

“Table tennis is evolving,” we’re told. “It’s coming out of the basements and garages.” And Top Spin deserves some credit for that evolution.

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