Feelgood documentary about the Over 80s' World Table Tennis Championships
As we all recover from the Olympic onslaught of bodies beautiful, this documentary celebrates athletes with somewhat different levels of muscle power, but no less determination. They are participants in the Over-80s’ World Table Tennis Championships, and they are feisty and cute. Feisty, cute people overcoming some sort of disadvantage to triumph in an endearing minority sport is a preoccupation of which the documentary-making community will apparently never tire, and certainly the feelgood factor is in effect here; but the film doesn’t really distinguish itself within the genre. On the whole it’s content to pat its characters on the head rather than exploring their minds or souls.
The film is at its most entertaining by far when it does let the darkness in a bit, as when the fierce and elaborately coiffed Dorothy takes on a one hundred year old opponent with the battle cry, “I should get this old girl. Look at her, she can’t move.” But elsewhere – as when a prolonged laugh is wrung out of a player mislaying his bat – the humour gets a little mean, which sits a little oddly with the otherwise warm and cuddly atmosphere. The Victorians were really sentimental about children, whilst turning a blind eye to their exploitation. Ping Pong’s gooiness over its perky octogenarians is a reminder that we can be guilty of similar doublethink with regard to our elderly: swaddling them in condescension whilst denying them status. Certainly the film offers a positive message about continued activity in later life, and the enlivening effect of friends and hobbies and competition; but it rather undermines that serious supportiveness when it treats its subjects too much like amusing mascots. It’s surprising that Dorothy let them get away with it.
On selected release now.