“Ambition and Adolescence on the Karting Race Circuit”

By Jennifer Merin, About.com

Three teenagers race to take the national go-karting trophy, in hope of advancing to careers as professional drivers in NASCAR, one of America’s favorite spectator sports.

The Thrill of the Race

In Racing Dreams, filmmaker Marshall Curry follows three adolescent go-kart competitors as they race to realize their dreams of becoming professional NASCAR drivers.

This film has a huge built-in audience among NASCAR fans, but will Racing Dreams be a winner with folks whose interests aren’t driven by speed sports.

Actually, the film has a straight away formula one storyline. From the start, you know that before Racing Dreams crosses its finish line, you’ll have watched a series of five go-kart races leading up to the the annual championship, and that the three featured kids putting pedal to metal in competition for pre-NASCAR glory will either take home trophies or not.

Storytelling Skills

Now that rather obvious structure and its predictable outcome might seem offputting to viewers who’re not enthralled by kids in cars. But, director Marshall Curry’s skillful storytelling fuels your interest, so your imagination won’t be left to idle for long.

Curry quickly shifts gears from the kids performances on the race track to their struggles in real life. Curry captures the most compelling aspects of his three leading characters’ circumstances and personalities — their ambitions and their angst in coping with family pressures, school, being in the public eye and raging hormones.

Brilliant Casting

Curry’s ‘casting’ is brilliantly balanced: Brandon, whose in the Senior League, is a badass troubled boy whose drug-addicted parents abandoned him to his loving and wise granddad’s care, and who has a young James Dean appeal that will quite captivate you, just as it does Annabeth, the film’s girl go-karter who competes in the Junior League, and who’s trying to prioritize her obsessions with racing, peer group popularity, lipstick, Brandon and beating Junior League go-kart champion Josh, the kid who, at 12 years of age, already knows the value of product placement, has Pepsi as a sponsor and is one of the most fiercely focused and commercially savvy competitors you’re likely to discover in any age group in any sport.

What makes Racing Dreams compelling from start to finish is what happens to Brandon, Annabeth and Josh between the races, rather than what they accomplish on the track in the moments between the waving of the start and finish flags. There is a rare feel of intimacy that reveals filmmaker Curry’s success in establishing trusting relationships with his subjects. For example, several scenes with the tough, hot-headed and gritty Brandon reveal the boy’s tender sweetness in ways that are unexpected and heartrending. You wind up rooting for this talented youngster’s success beyond the race track’s boundaries.

Just A Few Editing Glitches

Unfortunately, several inconsistencies in editing may break the film’s flow for you. Flawless continuity is crucial to the establishment of a film’s reality, and is essential in keeping viewers grounded in the truth of that reality. Fiction features often play with continuity for dramatic effect, but docs, which are meant to represent truth, actually have less leeway when it comes to playing with, or failing to abide by the laws of continuity.

Racing Dreams errs in two standout instances. Ironically, one of them has to do with the disappearance of a Barq’s soda can from the family dining table in the home of product placement-savvy young Josh, and the other has to do with the changing length of Brandon’s hair.

Is this nit-picking? Yes. But however finely focused these critical comments may be within the full framework of the film’s achievements, errors in continuity in documentaries are particularly jarring–and Marshall Curry is far too good a director to let them slide by. Still, Racing Dreams is a winner, even though it’s not a perfect ten.

About.com Rating: 4.5 Stars