Hot Docs 2015: Thank You For Playing Review

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Thank You For Playing (Directed by David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall) is a making-of documentary that carries far more weight than the term usually implies. It chronicles the development of That Dragon, Cancer, the game Ryan Green Kickstarted after learning that his infant son Joel had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer before he learned to talk.

Like the game, Thank You For Playing explores the emotional bond between father and son, documenting Joel’s life and Ryan’s process as he struggles to figure out what his game should look like. What aspects of Joel’s life belong to the story and what belongs solely to the family?

Ryan and his wife Amy are the painfully human figures caught at the centre. Their sadness resonates throughout every frame of the movie, as does their laughter, optimism, and resolve. You never forget that Joel is going to die, and that knowledge gives the movie much of its power. However, Thank You For Playing is not necessarily a sad movie. It’s heartbreaking and it will bring tears to your eyes, but – like its protagonist – it refuses to succumb to tragedy.

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That resiliency helps carry what is otherwise a somewhat standard film. Thank You For Playing is slow at points, especially when it’s more interested in recording playtime than it is in making a point. It sometimes feels like a home movie rather than a coherent narrative.

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But when it connects, the impact is undeniable. Ryan Green is an unbelievably honest human being with an inspiring outlook on life and the ways in which people can confront challenges that seem impossible. He made a game about his son because it was the only way he was able to cope with an unbearable loss, and the journey always feels genuine rather than exploitative. Green doesn’t have the answers. But he still needs to keep going, and it’s easy to empathize with that vulnerability.

Meanwhile, Green is also an excellent ambassador for the cultural vibrancy of gaming, articulating the artistic potential for the medium in a way that translates to audiences beyond the gaming mainstream. In the movie’s best scene, the meditative That Dragon, Cancer is juxtaposed against the bombast of PAX in Seattle, and it’s a poignant reminder that games can be so much more diverse and more meaningful than a collected series of explosions.

The end result is a movie to show to skeptics to convince them that games are worth defending. The emotional core is so raw that it punches through any cynicism you might have about the medium or the subject matter, and it’s impossible not to be moved if you have a heart. Thank You For Playing may not be great filmmaking, but it’s honest filmmaking, and that’s ultimately just as important.

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Screening: 

April 28th, 2015, 6:15pm @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
April 29th, 2015, 4:00pm @ Isabel Bader Theater
May 2nd, 2 2015, 2:15pm @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

All screenings followed by Q&A with filmmakers. Students can attend the Wednesday, April 29 and Saturday, May 2 screening for free with valid ID.

 

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