TIFF’s Next Wave Film Festival Review: Leap 4 Your Life (2013)

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Cast: April Telek, Allie Bertram, MacKenzie Porter
Director: Gary Hawes
Country: Canada
Genre: Comedy
Official Trailer: Here


The following review is part of our coverage of TIFF’s New Wave Film Festival for young movie lovers. For more information visit tiff.net or follow TIFF on Twitter

“Eyes forward!” commands the chief character of Leap 4 Your Life, a dance class instructor of decidedly unpleasant temperament, during the movie’s typically dreary dying moments. It’s the sole male dancer of her troupe with the wandering eye to whom she speaks, but the instruction might just as easily be directed toward the audience, few if any of whom will still be fixed on the images on-screen. Whether seated in a theatre or before a TV, after all, there’s any number of distractions out there to borrow your eyes’ attention, whether the wagging tail of a household pet, the flashing light of a smart phone notification, or—most tempting of all—the warm, welcome glow of an exit sign.

For as much as Leap 4 Your Life might indeed share the mockumentary format of Christopher Guest’s films, it could scarcely more starkly deviate from those movies in the tone and tendencies of its humour.

leap_4_your_life_2013_2“In the tradition of Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show” boasts the movie’s marketing material, a bold claim for even a masterpiece to make, and a phrase essentially equivalent here to “adopting the same aesthetic approach as”. For as much as Leap 4 Your Life might indeed share the mockumentary format of Christopher Guest’s films, it could scarcely more starkly deviate from those movies in the tone and tendencies of its humour. It is written by mother-daughter team Barbara and Taylor Hill, whose own actual experience of childhood dance contests provides an alleged accuracy here in the many “hilarious situations” that arise from this world; that they also produce, perhaps, is the essence of the film’s enduring inability to recognise its scenes as anything but.

Leap 4 Your Life seemed to write itself” confesses the younger Hill, an apt indication of the amount of thought that must have gone into the creation of its characters, each of whom is both hideous and hideously treated. But in a world as vapid as that in which the Hills set their action, is it not fitting that everyone should appear insufferable? If the film had even the slightest satirical sensibility, certainly. Yet unlike the Guest films to which it is so quick to compare itself, this exhausting effort thinks the misguidedly mean-spirited construction of its characters is comedy enough; the participants of Best in Show’s equivalent competition, by contrast, are funny for how foul they fail to realise they are.

…if there’s any truth to its claim of continuing in the Guest tradition, it’s only in the sense that that tradition has steadily slipped through new generations of influenced artists.

leap_4_your_life_2013_3Visually as much as narratively, it’s a movie that embodies the worst of recent tendencies in mockmentary cinema; if there’s any truth to its claim of continuing in the Guest tradition, it’s only in the sense that that tradition has steadily slipped through new generations of influenced artists. Director Gary Hawes, a successful short filmmaker and (second and third) assistant director, can’t spare the film from the same aesthetic absurdities that attend many mockumentary series, not least of all the impossible or unlikely camera setups that betray the lack of thought characteristic of the production. Maybe it’s unfair to compare anything to Albert Brooks’ Real Life, but that film’s ability to make the camera both a spatially sound and a character in itself is one all but extinct in modern movies.

All of which is but the bitter icing on a half-cooked cake of terrible comedy; whatever its formal failings might be, Leap 4 Your Life’s greatest and most unforgivable crime is the fact that it’s just not funny. From the obvious edit of the opening cutaway gag to a monstrously mishandled—though brave, if only stupidly so—gay subplot, the Hills have written a movie much more laboured than they think it, less steeped in the hilarity of pageantry than it is stewed in the self-obsession of characters it loathes. To compare it to Guest’s work is to seal the coffin with the sharpest nail available: his films might giggle at grotesquery, but it’s grotesquery it affectionately admits as endemic to us all; Leap 4 Your Life struggles so hard for its laughs because it’s never even looking in the right place.

[notification type=”star”]38/100 ~ AWFUL. Whatever its formal failings might be, Leap 4 Your Life’s greatest and most unforgivable crime is the fact that it’s just not funny.[/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.