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Waiting For Lightning
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by Jay Seaver

"Extreme sports, subdued documentary."
3 stars

Most extreme sports movies sell spectacle; if one has been booked for a night or two at a local theater before hitting the shelves at the local ski/surf/skate shop, you can usually bet on quality photography of impressive feats in nice locations. "Waiting for Lightning" is different; although it's got a heck of a stunt at its center, it is primarily a biography of the man who attempted it and what got him there.

That man is Danny Way, a skateboarding prodigy from Vista, CA, who excelled at an unusually young age, dropping out of school and turning pro when he was fifteen. While he mastered street skating after the skate parks where he grew up in started closing down, those were clearly his first love, and he recreated those experiences on a grand scale with "Megaramp". As the movie opens in 2005, he's planning a record-setting Megaramp stunt - jumping the Great Wall of China.

Even a large-scale stunt like the China jump is over relatively quickly, so director Jacob Rosenberg and writer Bret Anthony Johnston spend some time building up to it. Some of that time is spent on the literal building, and it might have been interesting to take a somewhat closer look at that if the footage were available; what we see of American designers working with a Chinese crew on a structure that must be built quickly but within precise specifications would be the basis of a nifty "how things work" documentary. This might especially be the case for non-skaters who only see the fearlessness involved as opposed to the physics of the ramp and the skill involved.

Instead, much of the time is spent on what built the man. Way and his brother Damon have more than their fair share of tragedy in their lives, with enough absent and lost father figures to populate a Wes Anderson/Steven Spielberg double feature and enough other instability at home that the times when they are neglected were not the worst periods. The filmmakers do a fair job of putting the information out there rather than exploiting it, so that while the audience may not have the sort of visceral reaction that a more forceful emphasis on the broken home might deliver, they're also not being led along a particularly straight line between those events and what he's doing now.

It does leave Way something of a cipher at points; his is just one voice among many interviews of family, business associates, and fellow athletes, and none of them are going to come up with the insight that unlocks his psyche. In many ways, the story of the jump parallels him pretty well, not just in that there's (measured) danger and setbacks that parallel his life, but how there is not really any point to it other than impressive skateboarding. That's why there's a Danny Way, it seems. The audience can mull on larger psychological questions - is this an escape from a rough childhood, a run toward self-destruction, or just a guy who found something he loves and wants to experience it fully? - but they are there to think about, not be answered. And while sometimes it seems avenues toward answering those questions are avoided (how the heck do you show that a man with these sorts of father issues has a young son and not spend some time on that relationship?), you can infer a fair amount from what the film does show.

It is impressively put together, for certain - Rosenberg and editor Carol Martori do a very nice job of jumping back and forth between 2005 and the years leading up to it, making up for a relative paucity of archival material by matching interview bits to stills and making repetition work. Though not setting out to make a skateboarding movie, the filmmakers put just enough action footage in to make it clear just how talented and hard-working Way is, and the climactic jump certainly delivers.

Like a lot of documentaries where the filmmakers seem to basically like their subject, "Waiting for Lightning" seems somewhat hands-off even as it says more than the subject might like. It does everything well enough, but seldom digs into one specific thing well enough to be truly outstanding.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23385&reviewer=371
originally posted: 11/20/12 23:56:59
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2012 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/19/13 nooj spent half the film lionizing subject, boring. 2 stars
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  DVD: 05-Mar-2013



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