Friday, June 26, 2015

The Day Cynicism Took A Holiday: Batkid Begins



This review originally appeared on SFist.com.

I had barely dried the tears from my face after seeing Inside Out when I had to go to a screening of the documentary Batkid Begins, and just as I feared, I was overcome by another bout of quiet sobbing. Of course this didn't come as a surprise; I was crying at my desk that November day in 2013, when it seemed like everyone in San Francisco was either in the streets, or glued to social media and local TV stations, watching a little kid in a Batman suit save the city from fictional crime, and real life cynicism.

I'm not sure how the documentary got started, as it is clear from the outset that no one knew the day was going to be as huge as it turned out to be. It's likely that as Miles' wish began to take shape, those at Make-a-Wish saw there was something to be gained from documenting the process, perhaps just to use as a short film that could then be shown to and shared with those within the organization. This foresight results in some great behind-the-scenes moments, interviews with some of the key players, and reactions from the Batkid (and Batman) as they day played out. (They were miked the whole time.)

But no superhero tale would be complete without an origin story, and young Miles Scott's is told via some comic book style animation at the film's start. We learn about his life in the small northern California town of Tulelake, how his parents were childhood sweethearts, and how, at only 18 months old, he was diagnosed with leukemia, and underwent almost three years of treatment.

Since Miles's biggest love was dressing up and superheroes — and dressing up as superheroes — it made sense that when given the chance to live a wish, he chose being Batman, and it was up to Bay Area Make-a-Wish chapter CEO Patricia Wilson to make it happen.

Granted, that part of the movie is not the most enthralling — watching someone co-ordinate an event, gather volunteers, and make phone calls is seldom riveting, but it does give Wilson her due — she turned a vague wish into something concrete, and that idea turned into something huge, with the involvement of 25,000 people within San Francisco.

We also meet some of the other players, including Eric Johnston, the inventor, engineer, and circus school teacher (!) who played Batman, Mike Jutan, the ILM engineer who played the Penguin, and some of the social media professionals who helped turn the day into something huge. (SFist's coverage also gets some love.)

I was most impressed with Johnston, and the effort he put into making the day extra special. For instance, he created a small projector that he could attach to his wrist, so he could project the "commissioner's" messages to Batkid on the ceiling or wall, instead of having Miles look at a boring iPhone screen. He also trained Miles — and a slew of other superheroes — the day before the event, and that scene is one of the movie's highlights.

It's also great seeing the before Miles, who is, indeed, a pretty shy and reserved kid — a kid who answers the question, "Did this all turn out the way you thought it would?" with "Yes" — and seeing how, when he finally puts on that Batman suit, he suddenly turns into a tiny John Wayne, strutting through the streets of San Francisco, ready to kick some butt.

Seeing how the day progresses, not without its fair share of hitches, including severe time delays, WAY bigger crowds than were originally expected, Lou Seal having to take an Uber to the kidnapping spot, and a Batkid who almost throws in the towel in favor of a nap after lunch — he's a five-year-old! — made me doubly appreciate just how well it really did turn out. The odds were against it.

And while the movie does suffer a bit from some self-congratulation — I didn't really need to learn how a PR company put together a social media action plan for the day, or how that guy from Twitter accomplished a life goal by having the President re-tweet him — I prefer to view it with the tearful eyes I had on November 15th, 2013...

...and save the cynicism for Julia Robert's planned movie version.

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