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‘Wizard Mode’ (review)

wizard-mode-posterProduced and Directed by
Nathan Drillot Jeff Petry

Starring Robert Gagno,
Kathy Gagno, Maurizio Gagno

 

There are pinball tournaments happening all over the globe each year, and neither Will Ferrell nor Adam Sandler has yet to star in a comedy about that.

It would be easy to lampoon video game events, especially in a documentary.  Matter of fact, King of Kong is ripe for its versioning on IFC’s Documentary Now!

The filmmakers of Wizard Mode take a higher road.

This isn’t a film necessarily about pinball, or pinball competitions.  The doc opens the cabinet on its true subject, pinball champion Robert Gagno.

Initially, with adorable pinball themed graphic design, it sets up Gagno as a quirky, childish twenty-something pinball geek who lives at home with his parents, and occasionally travels to competitions. For good measure, the basics of the game are defined along the way.

Somehow, without exploiting their subject, we see Gagno the way any observer at these competitions would—kind hearted, talkative, and dedicated to pinball.  Yet, it’s no surprise at the point in which his parents explain their prodigy was diagnosed with autism from a young age.

Wizard Mode doesn’t simply shift to another autism documentary.  Instead, as we journey with Gagno on his adjustment to everyday life, pinball’s coveted “wizard mode” becomes a metaphor for his quest to one day be independant from his parents.

In one of the more striking moments of the documentary, his personal struggles are visually matched with a pinball machine factory assembly line.

Gagno’s musings on life, from dealing with the everyday stress of autism to the intricate differences between Williams Electronics’s FunHouse and Gottlieb’s Black Hole machines.  On a side track, he’s also fixated on hugs—getting them, giving them, the science of them, the statistics of them.  Really who can argue with a guy that into hugs and pinball?

But also in the spotlight of this story are Gagno’s parents, and their commitment to balancing the reality of their son’s future with love and endorsement.  I was expecting, especially from the first half hour, a movie about a father-son bonding over pinball tournament travel.  What I wasn’t expecting was engrossing back-story about the power of nurture in the face of adversary.

We could all use a little more inspiration on how to nudge without a tilt.  Wizard Mode is a reminder that some are better than others, and one in particular, you might never have expected.

Wizard Mode is Vimeo’s first ever feature film release.  
It is now available for rental or purchase on Vimeo, Google Play and iTunes.
The film is also included to stream with Amazon Prime memberships.

 

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