At first read of the synopsis for On Your Mark, Get Set, MOW!, I was dubious that the film could be all that entertaining for the length of time that the documentary runs. Call it the cynical bastard seeping into the mind, but there are many documentaries out there that have great subjects or events at their center that at the same time don’t necessitate almost 90 minutes of viewing. Not trying to be mean, but at first impression, I didn’t think racing riding lawn mowers would sustain the running time. Well, it’s a good thing I actually watch movies instead of just going on first impressions, because Mike Ratel’s film does sustain the running time without getting too repetitious.
As the documentary rolls on, we’re introduced to the sport of lawn mower racing, and the different personalities engaged in the sport. To say that there is a specific type of person that races lawn mowers would be incorrect, because it seems to be as varied a population of racers as you could imagine up. From Lawn Monkey’s checkered past and salvation through racing to the Mikula family, lawn mower racing royalty whose family not only suffers from the horrible hereditary Huntington’s disease but also sponsors an annual race to find a cure for said disease, the film is never short of storylines to explore. On top of that, this “poor man’s NASCAR” is a blast to watch and the film is full of various angles of races, as well as full of all the different calamities that can befall an amateur weekend warrior sport like this, such as flooded tracks and equipment damage.
On Your Mark, Get Set, MOW! is both a documentary about people that race riding lawn mowers, and an opportunity to raise awareness about Huntington’s disease. On the latter, it is a disease that I did not even know existed, and I feel both blessed that I’m so fortunate and saddened that so many are not. Considering the disease starts at destroying brain cells and doesn’t stop until people have been completely torn apart on the inside, it’s a brutal affliction that you’d think there’d be more information about. Considering the hereditary nature of its spread, and the way it just decimates families for generations, finding a cure for Huntington’s disease should be as high up on the priority list as any other currently incurable plague.
That said, the film doesn’t always smoothly integrate the serious with the lighthearted, and sometimes the tonal shift from talking about the disease and then going back to friends racing lawn mowers and having a good time feels more jarring than perhaps it could. The film makes it a point to weave the two tones in, as opposed to just being all one way and then changing it up midway through, but the disconnect occurred when I found myself really digging on one aspect only to have a tonal gear shift interrupt that enjoyment.
Still, the nature of the races, and the camaraderie and upbeat attitudes of the racers, means it would always be difficult to reconcile the sadder aspects of the story. For all that they’re fighting for, or in the case of Monkey already fought through, these are not the type of people to dwell on the negative. They’re having too much fun.
Thanks to the different filming styles in the doc, from sideviews of races to helmet cams, it’s easy to get caught up in the action and the fun at the same time. The helmet cam in particular brings the viewer into the film, and from its first usage it is hard to remain a passive observer. The film is that first taste, and you just want to jump in and race yourself.
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