MRR Movie Review: Waiting for Lightning

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The inspirational story of Danny Way, a young boy from a broken home whose passion for skateboarding would one day bring him fame and a lifetime of accomplishments. Directed by Jacob Rosenberg, this 2012 documentary follows Way as he prepares to perform his greatest stunt yet: jumping over the Great Wall of China.
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Movie Review: "Waiting for Lightning"

-- Rating: PG-13
Length: 96 minutes
Release Date: Dec. 7, 2012
Directed by: Jacob Rosenberg
Genre: Documentary

Documentaries cover a variety of subjects, from earth sciences to historical figures. However, some go the extra mile to take moviegoers on a strange and wonderful journey, even if that trip spends much of its time in familiar territory. "Waiting for Lightning" is an inspirational piece that captures the very essence of the skateboarding world, even if it suffers from a number of technical flaws.

"Waiting for Lightning" follows the life of pro skateboarder Danny Way from early childhood to his historic jump over the Great Wall of China. Few professional actors were used in the filming of this documentary. Those that do appear in the cast portray the early years of Way's childhood. Most cast members are people who played a major role in Way's life, and they portray themselves throughout the film. The documentary highlights Way's difficult childhood and describes how he lost himself in skateboarding to deal with emotional and domestic turmoil at home. It covers his many failures and setbacks on the road to success and delivers the inspirational message that success often comes on the heels of failure, noting that continuous improvement can help a person attain his or her dreams.

The use of the actual people involved in Way's life is one of the film's best elements. Moviegoers can easily relate to their emotional performances because they actually experienced the events. The actors who portray young Danny (Dondillon Rohrer, Grant Romagnoli, and Julian Haggart) perform admirably in their short roles. Crystal Ackley, who plays the role of Mary O'Dea in the film, also delivers a memorable performance. The true-to-life depictions of many characters, including Rob Dyrdek and Travis Pastrana, steal scenes on a regular basis. Danny Way himself delivers a skilled performance through narration and dialogue. Although action sequences involving Way are the main focus of the movie, skateboarding legend Tony Hawk stands out in a cameo appearance.

The cinematography in "Waiting for Lightning" is less than stellar. The movie rarely departs from standard sports documentary fare, relying heavily on spliced footage from events and practice sessions and voiceover work to deliver its message. When scenes are filmed solely for display in the movie, the camera work often appears intentionally amateurish, which might make viewers feel they are watching a home movie and lead them to believe the movie could have benefitted from a more professional style of delivery. Likewise, shifts in lighting techniques and plot transitions are jarring in places and occasionally seem to come with no warning. This disjointed presentation creates a few noticeable snags in the delivery of an otherwise excellent story.

Most of the dialogue is either captured footage or voiceover work. The voiceovers deliver key points of exposition in a style that will be all too familiar to those who have watched previous skateboarding or surfing documentaries. The script for the voiceovers often adds little to the film. Audiences can easily identify when people appearing on screen are having a real conversation and when the event is staged for the purpose of the movie. The active, engaged dialogue is usually preferable to the scripted statements but do not compromise the overall feel of each scene.

Direction is almost everything in documentaries. The best stories and most inspirational messages can easily be lost if a director fails to accurately deliver the information through careful editing and pacing. Unfortunately, this is one area where "Waiting for Lightning" struggles. The transitions are often disjointed. Scenes are abruptly ended at seemingly random points, and key issues are left unaddressed while footage of practice sessions or events pops up unexpectedly.

There is very little sense of continuity after the film's initial acts, creating more of a montage than a storyline by the middle of the piece. However, the director redeems some of these failings by the end of the movie. The scenes taking place in China and the final jump over the Great Wall are delivered in an elegant fashion that would have elevated the film if this type of delivery had been consistent throughout the documentary.

"Waiting for Lightning" provides a glimpse into the life of one of skateboarding's most popular athletes. The film does a wonderful job of showing viewers the difficulties facing pro skateboarders. Although the inspirational theme helps make the film stand out, the storytelling regularly becomes bogged down with disjointed transitions and stop-and-go pacing. This movie is a perfect addition to any skateboarding fan's collection, but it may struggle to capture the attention of documentary fans or those looking for a more cohesive entertainment experience.

Rating: 2 out of 5