I stuck this movie into the DVD player thinking I'd watch 15 minutes or so and then go make dinner. Before I knew it, the end titles were coming up. This movie starts out slowly and you think it's going to be for hard-core gamers only and then it just sucks you in.
The first time you see Billy Mitchell on screen, standing in front of a copy machine wearing a button up shirt and tie, hair unfashionably long and blunt cut, with facial hair right out of the 70s, your first thought is "loser." Some of this comes from the popular image of people who are hard-core game players as not having real lives. It comes a surprise, therefore, to find out that not only is Mitchell a world champion video gamer, he is an exceptionally successful business person who is married and has children. Nevertheless, this doesn't stop him from coming across as a world-class jerk. While this is no doubt due somewhat to editing, no one put words into Mitchell's mouth and after a while you'll want to roll your eyes at his pompous pontificating. Still, he's the rock star of video gamers and the world-record holder in Donkey Kong, and even if you think that people who spend that much time going after such a seemingly useless world record need to get a life, you can't argue with the fact that Billy Mitchell certainly seems to have one, even if you'd never want to be part of it.
Steve Wiebe, on the other hand, is one of those guys you'd love to have as your best friend. Just as no amount of editing could make Billy Mitchell into the jerk he obviously is, no amount of editing in a picture this long could make Steve Wiebe out to be such a good guy if he weren't genuinely good natured. Even when the video gaming world seems to be conspiring against him to make sure that Billy Mitchell stays on top, Wiebe has a smile on his face. He's smart, good-looking, talented, and also married and a father. And such a sap that times, you just want to slap him for putting up with everything with such good grace.
The movie is about Wiebe's attempt to break Mitchell's long-standing world record for the highest ever Donkey Kong score. Those of us old enough to have played the game back in its heyday will remember how fun it was as well as its sheer impossibility. But even if you never played, or if that funny looking little guy dodging fireballs and falling barrels while trying hopelessly to rescue the girl never appealed to you, chances are you'll find this movie delightful. Because this movie is not about a video game, it's about what drives us to keep going in the face of the odds. The filmmakers do a great job of eliciting from the participants, particularly Wiebe, the reasons for their attraction to the game and the pursuit of the all time high score. Actual gameplay is kept to a minimum, which is frustrating for those of us who really liked the game, but what keeps it interesting even for people who've never held a joystick. Even if you think such a pursuit is really stupid, you'll probably find yourself torn when Steve Wiebe has to choose between breaking the world record and wiping his young son's bottom. You really end up rooting for him.
The supporting players are almost as entertaining as Wiebe and Mitchell, especially Walter Day, the folksinging, meditating, self-appointed guru of the gaming world, who seems to be going out of his way to keep Billy Mitchell on top. Seriously, you couldn't invent this guy.
Seth Gordon, the director of this film, worked on the movie New York Doll, and he seems to have picked up some of that film's ability to transcend the subject matter and keep us interested in people who might not otherwise seem like anyone we'd want to watch for a couple of hours. That Gordon can make Donkey Kong into a metaphor for life, and an entertaining one at that, is no mean accomplishment. I loved this movie.