Running time: 87 Min.
Director/Writer: Helen Hood Scheer
From 2002’s Spellbound, a documentary that followed eight kids from around the US as they worked their way to the ultimate sudden-death playoff of the National Spelling Bee, through 2004’s Word Wars (Scrabble’s dry-witted champions), 2006’s Air Guitar Nation (extreme!) and 2007’s The King of Kong (Donkey Kong players in a life-or-death struggle with perspective), there has been a spate of documentaries profiling oddball and non-traditional “sports,” all of whom dream of becoming an Olympic event someday. The latest is Jump!, showing off the skill, heart and sweat that goes into being the best jump-ropers on the planet.
Director Scheer has caught this world at just the right point in its development: with a history to look back on and real championships (national and world) to look forward to, but before it goes all mainstream and sell-out. Kids of all races, places and economic backgrounds work out relentlessly to perfect not just jumping in place, but bringing dance and gymnastic moves often seen in other sports like tumbling and ice skating into a frenetic routine that requires you leave the ground several times per second. Though the competition is intense and emotional for the youngsters, they’re all still friendly and curious about other teams, other countries and other styles, and interact with their competition quite freely.
The tension builds as we follow five US teams through the regionals, nationals and finally the world competition in Toronto. There’s moments of breathtaking physicality and more moments of heartstopping tension — you’re sure one of these kids is going to spontaneously combust from the sheer intensity of their jumping. We learn a little about the kids, including the pain and stress they deal with (coupled with strong devotion and seemingly boundless joy), the coaches (who are considered family), the “stars” (complete with their egos, but they do in fact “bring it”) and the up-and-comers. This is not a movie edited to only show off only the highlights or to glamourize the sport — we see the stumbles, the blank-outs, the pressure and failures, but the film is tempered throughout with genuine humour and a refreshing lack of pretentiousness or precociousness.
After watching this documentary you’ll be digging around in your closet for your old jump-rope as soon as you get home. Jump! is heartwarming, all-American fun.
(this article originally appeared in Film Threat )