Monday, June 22, 2015

Batkid Begins

On November 15, 2013, the Make-A-Wish Foundation turned parts of San Francisco into Gotham City so five-year-old leukemia survivor Miles Scott could live out his fantasy of being Batman. Since Miles was too young to save the city on his own, acrobat and former stuntman Eric Johnson volunteered to play Batman, leading his mini-me to each of the foundation’s three staged scenarios, then gently guiding the boy through his part of the action. Dana Nachman’s documentary anatomizes the extensive planning and social-media heat lightning that turned the day into a global phenomenon, after a Facebook plea for volunteers to play grateful Gothamites went viral.

It’s a promising premise for a movie: no wonder Julia Roberts is developing a feature version of the story. We’re hard-wired to root for the title character, a round-cheeked little farm boy who had battled leukemia for years by the time he entered first grade, as we learn in an opening sequence that tells his story in comic-book form, in what turns out to be a rare flash of visual creativity. The live-action Miles we see in footage taken before, during and after the event also has scene-stealing moments, especially after he dons his costume and channels his hero, walking “like he weighs 200 pounds,” as one of his parents puts it. But as the story of his big day unfolds, any hope of meaningful reflection or insight is doused by a steady drip of often redundant and banal observations, mostly about the unprecedented size or cooperative spirit of the crowd that showed up to cheer him on.

Miles’ wish inspired one of the San Francisco Make-A-Wish chapter’s most elaborate events. Commissioner Gordon-style pleas for help were taped in advance by the city’s chief of police to be played for Miles at intervals throughout the day, which ended with a ceremony in which the mayor gave Batkid a key to the city. Participating in the dastardly scenarios described in the chief’s messages were the Giants’ mascot and actors playing not just Batman but the Penguin, the Riddler, and a damsel in distress. The film keeps reminding us how much planning went into the event and how many people got involved, but it offers surprisingly little insight into what it meant to the people involved. Read the rest in Slant

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