‘THE SHORT GAME’ ★★★1⁄2
Phase 4 Films and Samuel Goldwyn Films present a documentary directed by Josh Greenbaum. Running time: 100 minutes. Rated PG (for some language). Now showing at River East 21 and South Barrington 30.
Updated: September 22, 2013 10:56PM
Like its half-pint stars, “The Short Game” stands on the cusp of brilliance.
Inspired and inspiring, this documentary about 7- and 8-year-olds competing for the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship is too fawning to be consistently gifted, but it manages to be occasionally, perhaps accidentally, profound.
The film follows eight children from around the world as they converge on what’s considered the pre-eminent tournament for adolescent golf savants, played annually in Pinehurst, N.C.
And that’s where the film suffers its only real handicap: As vividly as director Josh Greenbaum captures young athletic genius, he fails to openly ask whether we should be measuring it at all, given the brutal competition that is as much a measure of a parent’s obsession as a child’s talent.
But there’s no denying the talent here and a sparkle that comes from more than just being new. To the last, these tykes are top-notch, whether nailing 175-foot drives or talking about the game with the proficiency of a color commentator.
And these kids are titans on the tot circuit. The five boys and three girls, picked from as far off as the Philippines and South Africa, include the brother of tennis star Anna Kournikova, a descendant of noted French poet Paul Valery, and a U.S. phenom known as “Tigress” because she shares a birthday and a raft of golfing titles with her iconic hero, Tiger Woods.
It’s hard not to root for every one of these kids, who turn walks between holes into nature strolls with parents and even get a lesson in romance (two competitors become buds, though their adolescent observers speculate they are “more than friends”).
But Greenbaum does such an effective job of capturing life on and off the green that the camera catches parents in some jaw-dropping moments. If you thought soccer moms and Little League parents could be over the top, meet a “daddy caddy,” a term for a hectoring parent who carries an offspring’s clubs — and can’t help but turn the game into anything but child’s play.
One father tells his son that the nation looks to the boy to improve his country’s reputation in golf. Many hire personal trainers and sports psychologists. Another father says the golf ball is his daughter’s only chance for college. Apparently, an academic scholarship is already out.
Few documentaries need more talking heads, but Short could use one to suggest that the national spotlight might not be the best playground for a 7-year-old.
But Short takes a decidedly upbeat approach to the sport, quoting golf legends such as Jack Nicklaus and Annika Sorenstam about the life lessons the sport offers.
That doesn’t negate the film’s darker themes, just buries them in the narrative bunker. But for astute viewers and golf fans, Short hits the green consistently and is, at times, a hole-in-one.
Gannett News Service