Gordon and the Whale

Theatrical Review: RACING DREAMS

by: James Wallace

Rating: 4/5

Winner of Best Documentary at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival, RACING DREAMS tells of three champion kart racers, all from very different sides of the track.

The girl with something to prove, 11-year-old Annabeth Barnes, in her rookie year as one of the only females in the Junior Class division. The charismatic sweet talker, 12-year-old Josh Hobson, who looks right at home in his familiar place at the top of the Junior Class winner’s podium. And the rebel, 13-year-old Brandon Warren, whose as good a Senior Class driver as he is a rule-breaking scrapper. All three young lives are neck-and-neck on the race track of life in this moving and inspirational documentary from director Marshall Curry.

The film does well to make interesting what I prior believed to be a pretty boring sport. But amongst its tension-filled race scenes chronicling a five race series, RACING DREAMS is really more about the lives of the young drivers off the track, and how it directly influences their attitudes and ambitions on the paved raceway. With drama so intense and emotional it feels as if it jumps off a well-written page, the film shows that hopes and dreams of fame and glory don’t keep the car running. From Warren’s troubled family life involving his dysfunctional father, to both Hobson and Barnes’ families who struggle to pay their bills while do all they can to support their children’s racing dreams, Curry presents a portrait of three young adult’s American dreams and the raw realities that tail them.

The film is also a fascinating look at the American obsession with fame and celebrity, even at a young age. We see throughout the film the various view points from Annabeth and Josh as they write their autobiographies and practice their product placement during interviews, that America is a place where if you see yourself being able to do then it can be so. While we get a very different perspective from Brandon, where you get the sense that the boy just wants to succeed and be number one to save himself from a life as a zero. In this sense, America is a place where dreams don’t always come true…even if you have the talent to make them a reality. In its bitter sweet commentary, this is one of the documentary’s aspects that make it stand out as a champion.

From its poetic and picturesque cinematography – largely from Curry himself – to its original score from Joel Goodman, and its emotionally gripping and heartfelt story, RACING DREAMS is a documentary that crosses the finish line in first place.