Chris Grega’s Game of the Year tells the mockumentary tale of a small group of role-playing aficionados teaming up in an effort to be cast on a reality show known as “Game of the Year,” where the winners get to design their own role-playing game. And when I talk of RPG, I’m not talking about the videogame reality; we’re talking Dungeons and Dragons-style gaming.
The team has two leaders. First is Richard (Damien Samways), the game master. He sets up the scenarios the players encounter as the game goes along. Shawn (Christopher Macke) is the group leader, basically the guy who dictates how the group deals with Richard’s adventures. Kyle (Alan David) is a closet gamer, trying to hide his gaming lifestyle from his girlfriend. John (Daniel Probst) is a married man who fights with his wife almost constantly, and it is his basement where the group plays. Mark (Mike Feraro) is a loser looking for love, who has been friends with Richard for a long time, and the last of the group is Billy (Derek Simmons), who doesn’t take the entire experience as seriously (and is most consistently the comic relief).
While I love documentaries, I have to admit that I’m slowly starting to turn away from mockumentaries. Some are great, but after a while it begins to look like someone just came up with a vague idea for a film and then just went with the style of The Office to get their project done and out there quickly. How hard is it, really, to turn a camera on, film folks talking or improvising and then intercut it with a close-up interview of someone talking about what you just saw? When it’s done right, you’re drawn right into it and ignore the gimmick or the cliché. When it’s not done right, it’s quickly dismissible and forgettable. So where does Game of the Year land?
At the start, on the forgettable side. As the film sets up the main characters, it seems to be nothing more than fairly uninteresting people arguing all the time. The concept of the role-playing game is a nice backdrop for getting a group of weirdos in a room for some fun filming, but they need to do more than just argue, for my taste.
The film turns the corner, however, when the female documentarian and boom operator, Jennifer (Meghan Maguire), is invited to play the game. She immediately makes a splash with the team, as all the “eligible” bachelors are suddenly keen on finding their role-playing soul mate, and the overall goal of winning the reality show becomes the last priority as the group disbands.
Suddenly, we’re no longer watching the same characters in the same basement arguing with each other about the same things. Now they’re breaking off into splinter groups, trying to find a new game in an attempt to salvage their gaming passion at worst and, at best, finding a new crew with which to go after the reality show placement. New characters, such as Gary (Travis Estes), the game master with a penchant for dramatics (and little else), come into the film and the entire experience opens up. The film then becomes a tale of two halves; the first 30-40 minutes left me unimpressed, but I was truly engaged by the second half of the film. Even the audio clears up for the second half (the first half had quite a few issues where the sound was hollow and hard to follow).
In the end, Game of the Year is not one of those mockumentaries that I would include among the top of the pile, but it does eventually set itself apart from the derivative bottom enough to not be dismissed. Again, the second half of the film is a fun time and a complete opposite experience from the beginning of the film. If you have the patience to make it far enough in, you won’t regret it.
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