“Top Spin”: This documentary, about three American teens undergoing pre-qualifying competitions to play on the U.S. Olympics table-tennis team, is full of sizzling action and roller-coaster emotions. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
Pingpong is a game you play with your cousins at biannual family reunions, or during beery evenings at the corner tavern.
Table tennis might be a fancier name for pingpong, but it is an Olympics-level game not meant for ordinary mortals. It can leave your head spinning, though it also looks as if it could put your eye out.
The subjects of sports documentary “Top Spin” are both ordinary and remarkable: American teens studying for the SAT, consulting with the guidance counselor at school, sliding time with friends into busy lives.
Movie Review ★★★
‘Top Spin,’ a documentary directed by Sara Newens and Mina T. Son. 80 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. Grand Illusion, through Thursday.
Additionally, they spend up to six hours a day in rigorous practice for table tennis, preparing for various pre-qualifying competitions to make it onto the U.S. Olympics team in 2012.
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Directors Sara Newens and Mina T. Son focus on three kids — Michael Landers, Lily Zhang and Ariel Hsing — who carry the enormous weight of expectation on their young shoulders. We see the passionate involvement of their parents and coaches. Somehow Bill Gates and Warren Buffett turn up in a comical moment of support, as well.
None of the caring adults are unreasonable about the children’s relative achievement, but it’s obvious they are concerned with the players’ occasional heartache.
“Top Spin’s” action is sizzling — that sideways-hop-dance players use in the sport is mesmerizing, and lightning-fast exchanges between competitors can look unearthly.
But in the end, table tennis is all too human, and the final lesson from competing is that success can be defined in different ways — fulfillment, peace of mind, new dreams.