TIFF Next Wave 2014: Leap 4 Your Life – Film Review

Director: Gary Hawes
Writers: Barbara Hill, Taylor Hill
Actors: April Telek, Allie Bertram, MacKenzie Porter, Taylor Hill, Reece Thompson
Rating: NYR
Runtime: 80 min

The mockumentary genre has experienced a surge of popularity in recent years. Starting with the brilliant Best in Show in 2000 and reaching into the world of television with hits such as The Office, Modern Family, and Parks and Recreation, this genre presents a fictional documentary that mimics the conventions of actual nonfiction filmmaking. Like the documentaries that inspire them, mockumentaries have the potential to be biting examinations of real life issues, with the added bonus of humour through a built-in satirical perspective. Director Gary Hawes’ Leap 4 Your Life (2013) could have been a very funny look at the world of teenage dance competitions. Unfortunately, some very poor acting and an over-written but under-thought-out script pull down a film with a lot of potential.

Leap 4 Your Life

Leap 4 Your Life follows four teenage dancers from the fictional Sashay Dance Company as they prepare for and compete in the biggest community competition of the year. All of the expected personalities are present: the privileged over-achiever Hilary (Allie Bertram), the eager ugly duckling Molly (Taylor Hill), the hard working everygirl Brooke (MacKenzie Porter), and the token – yet straight – male dancer Matt (Reece Thompson). As expected, the mothers are ruthless and clueless, and dance instructor Maureen (April Telek) will stop at nothing to secure wins for her studio.

Although all of the characters presented in this film are clichéd stereotypes, this fact is to be expected of the genre and did not necessarily have to be a flaw. There is a lot of humour to be found in a stereotype when it is presented in the proper manner, and the flaws within this type of personality are indicated and ridiculed. An audience wants to laugh at these exaggerated characters that we know exist in real life, yet to a lesser extent. Regrettably, however, the actors simply do not deliver believable people or performances, so an audience cannot make that connection into their own lives. Over-acting can destroy a film, which is unfortunately what occurs here. There are a few notable exceptions; Peter Benson, for example, delivers one of the only funny performances as Matt’s father Dan, who tries desperately to support his son who he erroneously assumes to be gay. Not only is his character likeable, but his acting is strong and stands out in its naturalness among many stilted performances that sadly try too hard.

Leap 4 Your Life

The actors alone, however, cannot be blamed for the lack of effectiveness in this film, as an overwritten and typical script does nothing to help these young actors create real performances. There is a lot of meanness present in the screenplay, but nothing sharp or intelligent, and no particularly engaging scenarios. A teenage dance competition has endless potential for uproarious humour. The dancers themselves, as well as their parents, can be relatable or repellent, and either can be funny. As aforementioned, even stereotypical situations have the potential to be amusing if these old and familiar ideas are paired with some new ideas and worthy statements. Situations are presented, but nothing new or unique fills them in, and they do not appear particularly well planned or executed. Mockumentaries should have something to say, and meanness does not equal wit. Unfortunately, this film is not funny, nor is it biting; it is simply over-the-top.  The handheld camera filming technique, paired with the interview segments, do work to effectively create the feeling of a nonfiction documentary, but the tone is not enough to sustain the film.

The funniest moments in mockumentaries occur when one recognizes a moment of truth within the film. It may be a narrative moment that strikes home, or simply a perfectly timed glance at the camera. There are no such moments of nuance, subtlety, or even humour present in this film. Although the dancers in Leap 4 Your Life jump high, the film inevitably falls flat.

Screening Time: Saturday, February 15th at 4:15pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox